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Midterm takeaways: Unusual elections end on unexpected turf

Diversity gains, coattails and sometimes meddling works

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference Wednesday after losing his reelection race. At right is his husband, Randy Florke.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference Wednesday after losing his reelection race. At right is his husband, Randy Florke. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As a block, this year’s midterm races did not go as expected. But even as Democrats stemmed their losses in the House and as the Senate still hangs in the balance, a frequent theme of the House and Senate map remained: The battle was fought on some unexpected turf.

No, Republicans didn’t clean up in the blue states, such as Oregon and Washington, as many GOP operatives predicted. But if the party achieves a slim House majority, it would run through a tranche of seats in New York as well as Virginia’s 2nd District and other seats won by President Joe Biden in 2020. Democrats found some bright spots in unconventional territory and were leading in a completely off-the-radar seat in Colorado’s 3rd District. 

Republicans spent hundreds of millions of dollars in districts that Biden won in 2020, while Democrats employed some risky tactics to help boost their own candidates. It’s expected to be the costliest midterm cycle to date. 

A number of pivotal races still remain too close to call, and the Georgia Senate race is already headed into overtime. 

“There’s a lot of votes that are still outstanding, so we actually expect to be counting ballots in a number of races for a few days and, in a case or two, maybe potentially for weeks,” Minnesota GOP Rep. Tom Emmer, who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle and in 2020, said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “But what we do know right now is that House Republicans and the NRCC did accomplish our goal, which was retaking the majority and firing Nancy Pelosi.”

As the results pour in, themes are emerging in what motivated voters and whether candidates and money matter. Here are some takeaways from the 2022 midterm elections.  

Big upsets

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney lost to state Assemblyman Mike Lawler by about 1 point in New York’s 17th District. Speaking Wednesday, Maloney said he would support Lawler in the transition and that he spoke to Biden. 

“We are still working, and any fair person and responsible observer should understand that it will take time to understand all of the races and their outcomes,” he said. “I just told you what happened in mine, and we will tell you what happens in each of them, fairly and honestly and transparently.”

Maloney said it was a better night for Democrats than many had anticipated.

“House Democrats stood our ground. And we believe Nov. 8, 2022, will be a signature date in American political history and, we hope, the high water mark of some of the anger and the division that we have dealt with this entire cycle, from Jan. 6 on through. And we hope for something better for our country, because that’s what all Americans deserve,” he said. 

Democrats may be poised to gain a seat in an even more stunning race. Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, an enthusiastic supporter of former President Donald Trump, was trailing her Democratic challenger, Adam Frisch, in the state’s seemingly ruby-red 3rd District. 

Primary meddling pays off

Democrats spent millions in Republican primaries this year, effectively boosting more conservative candidates they considered to be weaker opponents. Their efforts paid off in some high-stakes races. 

By running ads ahead of GOP primaries pushing voters toward more conservative candidates, Democratic outside groups helped influence who their candidates would face in key races in Michigan and New Hampshire. Some Democrats criticized these decisions because the party was boosting candidates who had questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

In the Granite State, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan defeated Retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. Bolduc won the September GOP primary after a super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer ran ads tying his leading primary opponent to lobbyists. 

In Michigan, Democrat Hillary Scholten beat Republican John Gibbs in the 3rd District. Gibbs won a GOP primary against Rep. Peter Meijer after the DCCC spent nearly half a million dollars in ads supposedly opposing Gibbs but ultimately boosting his profile. 

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to sway Republican primary voters in Colorado, but Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet still defeated the Republican challenger the party was trying not to face, Joe O’Dea.  

Not denying these elections

There are still a whole slew of races remaining to be called (did we mention that already?), but some of the candidates who said they believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump have lost and conceded their races. Among them are Bolduc and J.R. Majewski, who challenged Rep. Marcy Kaptur in Ohio’s 9th District. “Congratulations @RepMarcyKaptur. I wish you the best. Please deliver for #OH09. We need it,” Majewski tweeted Wednesday. 

Coattail effects?

Gubernatorial races seemed to ripple down in some pivotal states. Vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Pennsylvania House races may have gotten a boost from having a controversial GOP candidate as the gubernatorial nominee. Meanwhile, even as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul won, her unpopularity in some districts may have helped Republicans, such as Lawler, who toppled Maloney. 

Roe-ing the vote

Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who won a third term in Michigan’s 7th District, said an abortion referendum in the state helped turn out younger voters, especially at Michigan State University. Slotkin was leading state Sen. Tom Barrett by 5 points on Wednesday afternoon, a larger margin of victory than in her previous two elections. 

“It was very clear that the overwhelming number of students who were waiting in line were women and the overwhelming motivating force to wait in line, up to four hours, was voting yes on Proposition 3 to codify Roe in the Michigan constitution,” she said of lines she saw at the university Tuesday. “It looks like at least 3,000 students registered and voted in the same day,” she said, “and if you think about, you know, I’ve gotten about 5,000 more votes than I got in my last two races, that’s where it is coming from. That’s the driver.” 

Voters in four other states had abortion referendums on the ballot as well, leading to wins for backers of abortion rights. 

Abortion is set to continue to play a role in Georgia’s Senate runoff next month. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said it would invest at least $1 million to support Republican Herschel Walker. 

Pelosi plans?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had predicted Tuesday that Democrats would “do much better than anyone expects.” And they did. That may buy her extra goodwill in her caucus to stay on in leadership — if she wants — despite a previous pledge to term limit herself out after this year. Pelosi said in a CNN interview Monday that the attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi, who was beaten with a hammer by a home intruder looking for her, would influence her decision on retiring or staying in the House, but she didn’t indicate which way she was leaning.

Some diversity gains for GOP

House Republicans sought to make history this year by recruiting dozens of candidates of color. The party had some notable successes. Wesley Hunt, a Black Iraq War veteran, won a newly created seat in Houston. Anna Paulina Luna, who is Mexican American, defeated Democrat Eric Lynn in Florida, flipping control of a Gulf Coast seat that was previously held by Democrat Charlie Crist. And John James, a West Point graduate who is Black, won an open seat in suburban Detroit.

“Our gains were powered by a diverse crop of candidates, and that’s a huge win for our party,” Emmer said. 

But in other places, Black, Latino and Asian American Republicans fell short. Allan Fung, a former mayor who had sought to become Rhode Island’s first Asian American member of Congress, lost to Democrat Seth Magaziner in a race that had been rated a toss-up. And Jennifer-Ruth Green, a Black Air Force veteran, fell short in her bid to become the first Republican in more than 90 years to win in Indiana’s 1st District.

Your future looks different than mine

Two prospective leaders on Capitol Hill were laying out their agendas for 2023 in speeches Tuesday night into early Wednesday.

“So, here’s what we want to get done in the next Senate,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said after winning his own reelection race by 13 points. “We want to protect a woman’s right to choose. We want to protect the right to marry those who you love by passing the Marriage Equality Act. … We want to fight to protect our democracy by securing the right to vote, we want to strengthen our unions and expand the rights of workers to organize for a better day.”

Ignoring how those measures would get past the 60-vote threshold for most legislation in the Senate, a House chamber led by Republicans would have other ideas about what’s important, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said early Wednesday at a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel.

After declaring his party had won the majority, McCarthy said the election results showed the American people are ready for a House majority that will offer a different direction than would Democrats. 

“It’s a new direction towards an economy that is strong, where you can fill up your tank and feed your family, where your paychecks grow, not shrink,” he said, adding that the new direction will also move toward a future built on children, a government that is accountable and “a nation that is safe, where communities are protected, law enforcement is respected.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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