Midterms 2022: The Day After

How much sleep did you get? I didn’t get much. Sure, I turned the TV off before 11… but that phone was never too far or off for too long.

Since my coffee hasn’t counteracted this sleep loss, this post might be messy, but I’m rushing it out to you during study hall. Here are four takeaways from last night’s Midterms.


Takeaway #1 — Red Wave? More like Red Ripple.

Although we don’t have an official call on a House majority, it’s looking like the Republicans will take it. In the race to 218, here are where some major news outlets have the count (as of 1:00 PM EST Wednesday):

  • CNN: GOP 203 – 187 Dems, with 45 remaining
  • Fox News: GOP 203 – 176 Dems, with 56 remaining
  • New York Times: GOP 203 – 176 Dems, with 56 remaining
  • New York Times needle (includes races already called + races where a candidate is a 60% or more favorite: GOP 219 – 206 Dems, with 10 tossups remaining.

If the New York Times needle is close to accurate, Republicans have their 218+ majority in the bag, either through the 219 won/favorite seats, or perhaps they fall one or two short there but win some of the 10 tossups.

With a ceiling of about 230, they will not get to the 235 seats I predicted on Tuesday morning. I think they come in for a landing at about 225.

This narrow majority might prove chaotic for the Republican caucus in January. Can they rally around a single Speaker candidate? House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the heavy favorite. If Republicans had won 235 to 240 seats, McCarthy would have coasted to the Speakership. However, with a narrow majority, he’ll need to shore up his right flank, particularly the vocal pro-Trump wing of the party (led by Marjorie Taylor Greene), which might not fully support an establishment insider unless there’s appropriate fealty to the former President.

Takeaway #2 — It’s looking like a split decision.

Republicans are taking the House, but the Democrats currently have the inside lane for the Senate. If they do take the upper chamber, that’s a big miss on my part. Here I was trying to learn from my mistakes, but it backfired. In 2018 and 2020, I only missed tossups by wrongly predicting Democrats, and so this time around I sent most of my tossups to Republicans and now it’s their turn to let me down. If you can’t trust political parties, who can you trust?

But before we get to those, let’s talk about what I had right. Dating back six months, I said the entire Senate race came down to six races. I took Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio off the table for the hopeful Dems, and boiled it all down to Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (To be precise, there were later adjustments to the six; by the fall, New Hampshire came off the board in favor of the Democrats, but I put it back on two days before the election while taking Wisconsin off to give to the Republicans.) On Sunday, I ranked in order of confidence the 13 “unsafe” states according to 270 To Win’s consensus forecast, and the first 8 of those, including my “PPFA Locks” and “PPFA Likelies,” all hit correctly, even if Wisconsin took longer than I thought.

Ultimately, the 30 races I confidently predicted went exactly as expected. That set up Republicans 49, Democrats 46 with five competitive states to go.

Two of the five have been called, both for Democrats. New Hampshire was my 31st win thanks to Democrat Maggie Hassan’s re-election. However, I took the L in Pennsylvania, where the political brain (not John Fetterman’s nickname, I assure you) triumphed and the Democrats flipped the seat.

Therefore, as I write this sentence at just past 1:00 Wednesday, the race stands at Republicans 49, Democrats 48. Both parties need two of the three, as two would get Democrats to 50 plus the VP for the majority, whereas two Republican wins gets them to 51.

The three remaining states are Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada. No one would should feel terribly confident in their results, but if you had to bet your life on one it’d be Arizona staying blue. Democratic Senator Mark Kelly is up 5 points (51.4-46.4), which at first glance is safe. However, only an estimated 66% of the vote has been counted, and most of the remaining vote is expected to go to Republican challenger Blake Masters. Kelly’s lead will narrow, but I think it’s large enough to hold on. (The same cannot be said for the state’s Democratic nominee for Arizona governor, Katie Hobbs, whose 0.6-point lead over Republican Kari Lake is fragile.)

If Kelly holds on, Democrats pull even with a 49th senator (and painfully, PPFA takes a second loss). That puts them one away from holding their majority with two states to go: Georgia and Nevada.

Of the two, we’re likely getting a result in Nevada first. With an estimated 77% of the vote counted, it’s a true tossup. Republican challenger Adam Laxalt is up by 2.7 (49.9-47.2) over Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a lead of 23,000 votes. However, much of the remaining vote is coming from Democratic-skewed mail-in ballots and most of those are coming from Democrat-heavy Clark County (wherein Las Vegas sits). Nevada legend Jon Ralston thinks there could realistically be a hundred thousand votes still coming in from Clark, with those breaking 2:1 to Cortez Masto. If that were exactly correct, that would be a 66,667 votes for Cortez Masto and 33,333 votes for Laxalt, which would more than wipe away Laxalt’s current lead. Of course, Ralston is just speculating. We’ll see what truly lies in store from remaining ballots in the next day or two.

If Cortez Masto does come back for the win, that would get Democrats to 50, their majority safe thanks to the VP’s tiebreaking vote. If Laxalt hangs on, however, that brings the GOP to 50 with the Democrats stuck at 49.

If Nevada goes blue, Georgia could bump the Democrats up to 51, a surprising gain in what was thought to be a red wave election. If Nevada goes red… well, tell me if you’ve heard this before:

Georgia decides the majority, and maybe in a runoff election.

Just like in 2020, Georgia is tight, With an estimated 96% of the vote counter, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are within a point of each other (Warnock 49.4 – 48.5 Walker). Libertarian Chase Oliver has pulled down 2% of the vote, which looks to be enough to keep both major party candidates below 50%, forcing the December 6 runoff election between the two.

If the majority hangs in the balance, it’ll be painful for all of us. Like I said yesterday, I think that if Republicans go into this runoff with the majority in hand, that deflating development for Democrats will hurt Warnock and allow Walker to win. However, now we’re seeing the more likely scenario is that Republicans will be stuck at 49 or 50, and Democrats will have the majority secured. That being so, I expect Warnock to win the runoff. Without popular Republican Governor Kemp on the ballot after his triumphant 8-point win over Stacey Abrams, which brought Republicans to the polls, the advantage shifts to Warnock, particularly if it looks like he’s a nearly a percent more popular as it is.

All considered, if you include predicting the Georgia runoff, I’m 32/33, missing only Pennsylvania so far, but I would be wrong on both Arizona and Nevada if the Democrats win there. If I’m wrong on both of those, I’d finish 32/35.

If you expected more out of me, know that I did too.

3. Biggest winner and loser of the night

The biggest winner and loser of the night came from the same party. I wouldn’t call President Biden a “winner” here, although I heard some Democrat-friendly media this morning desperately trying to spin it that way. If Democrats had held both chambers, he would indeed have been the big winner. However, it does appear the House is gone. That will badly damage Biden’s chances at passing legislation. And recall that in 2018, Trump’s party also grew its Senate lead while losing the House, followed by Trump losing re-election two years later.

No, the biggest winner of the night was Ron DeSantis. On an otherwise underwhelming night for Republicans, DeSantis and Florida Republican candidates trounced their opponents. DeSantis himself looks to have almost a 20-point victory in what used to be the foremost swing state in the country. Remember, he only barely squeaked by in 2018, winning 49.6% to Andrew Gillum’s 49.2%. Four years later, DeSantis is 10 points higher, his Democratic opponent 10 points lower. He even won Miami-Dade, becoming the first Republican to win the county in 20 years. One statewide exit poll shows DeSantis won the Latino vote by 13 points! Florida Congresspersons also picked up four seats. They’ll now send 20 Republicans to Washington from the state compared to the Democrats’ 8. Like Florida hurricanes past, DeSantis brought a rising tide that lifted many boats.

Florida, once the purplest and mightiest of bellwether states, now looks off the board in 2024. Its 30 electoral votes will be red, which narrows the path for the Democratic nominee. DeSantis has presided over this shift. It appears voters looked around the “Free State of Florida,” with its few Covid restrictions and minimal economic disruption, and liked what they saw. DeSantis also lead Republicans in the culture war, and his state didn’t punish him for it. He’s looking like conservative politics’ strongest ambassador.

And if DeSantis is the night’s biggest winner, then Donald Trump is the biggest loser. As I speculated yesterday, if swing state Republican candidates struggled, that would be attributed to his handpicked nominees. That blame is also coming from the conservative wing of our ideological media, and I’ll echo it here. In Georgia, Trump-backed Senate candidate Herschel Walker (48.5% of the vote) currently runs 5 points back of Republican Governor Brian Kemp (53.5), who Trump was none too happy with two years ago. Trump-backed JD Vance in Ohio is running over 9 points back of Republican Governor Mike DeWine. Trump’s supported Senate and gubernatorial nominees in Pennsylvania have both flamed out. Blake Masters looks to be falling short in Arizona. Over in the House, the muted wave might not even get Trump sycophant Lauren Boebert re-elected in a Republican-leaning district. All of this echoes 2020, when Republicans ran ahead of Trump across the country.

It cannot be stressed enough that this should have been a Republican wave. It’s a Democratic President. The Democratic President is popular. Inflation is sky high. Gas prices are high. Crime and the border are pressing concerns for voters. And this is all Republicans could do? A weak House majority and a lost Senate seat?

Well, it’s hard to ride a wave when there’s an albatross around your neck. And the albatross, in this case, is Donald J. Trump.

4. What’s it all mean?

The lessons of split decisions are hard to decipher. Trump’s midterm in 2018 was a split decision, and he lost two years later. Obama’s split decision in 2010, however, was a precursor to his re-election.

For Biden, I’d say we’re back to where we started before the election. A total loss of Congress would have meant he steps aside in 2024, whereas keeping all of Congress would have filled his sails. Now, however, we’re all just left asking the same question we were before: “Will a doddering 81-year-old run for re-election?”

My instinct is no, but without much confidence. Without the House, it’ll be hard to push through any new accomplishments on which he can hang his aviator shades. Obama ran against this situation with a Trumanesque vigor, barnstorming across the country while essentially calling the House a “do-nothing” Congress. It worked. But if there’s anything Biden lacks, it’s vigor.

On the Republican side, it looks like Trump might declare for 2024 next week. You can feel party insiders and the media want to move on to DeSantis, and Trump probably wants to nip that in the bud. Indeed, Fox News literally ran a column today with the title “Ron DeSantis is the new Republican Party leader”; its subtitle read “Republicans are ready to move on without Donald Trump.”

But we know how loyal his voters are. And we also know that Trump cares only about Trump, not the Republican Party. Trump raised $168 million this election cycle but spent only about $15 million on the 2022 races, while Mitch McConnell organized $238 million to go to Republican candidates. In key Senate races, McConnell’s PAC far outspent Trump’s contributions, which were sometimes as little as $0. Even Ted Cruz called out the former President on his thriftiness. And all this is while Trump has repeatedly attacked McConnell since his lack of loyalty after January 6, recently saying his comeback will be accompanied by ousting McConnell as the Republican leader in the Senate.

So if there ever is pressure on Trump to step aside, we can imagine what his response will be. He’ll threaten to take his voters and go home. Or, worse, take his voters and attack the Republican Primary field, “DeSanctimonious” included.

But will DeSantis run? There’s going to be a ton of pressure on DeSantis to save the party before Trump submarines their chances, as there finally seems to be a critical mass of Americans who see through his cult of personality and recognize the man for what so many of us have seen for so long.

I personally hope DeSantis runs, as it’d make for an epic Republican Civil War. Maybe even the best primary… ever?

We’ll see. I can hold off on 2024 for a little while longer. For now, we’ll let the last few 2022 races wrap up.

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