Republican midterm ‘red wave’ hopes evaporate as House and Senate remain too close to call

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Wednesday 09 November 2022 07:20 GMT
Emotional Fetterman lost for words after winning Pennsylvania Senate race
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President Joe Biden started his day on Tuesday expecting American voters to deliver a stunning rebuke to his administration and his handling of the US economy by putting Republicans firmly in control of at least one half of the US Congress.

House and Senate Democrats started their days expecting to begin hearing bad news as soon as in-person voting wrapped up on the east coast of the United States.

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expected to deliver a victory speech by 11pm on Tuesday night, once it became clear that voters had given Republicans a firm majority in the House of Representatives.

No one’s day went the way they’d expected it to go.

It first became clear that the “red wave” Republicans had been hoping for would not materialise not long after polls closed in Virginia, where Representative Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who won election in the anti-Trump wave of 2018, had been expected to lose her seventh district seat to GOP challenger Yesli Vega.

But Ms Spanberger, who’d been a prime target for Mr McCarthy and the National Republican Congressional Committee, held on by a wide margin.

And even though the GOP picked up four new seats thanks to a redistricting process that had been overseen by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Democrats flipped four of their own in districts carried by Mr Biden in 2020.

By the time the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, it wasn’t clear who would control the House, and with returns from California and other western states expected to take days to come in, Mr McCarthy’s victory party would have to wait.

Things didn’t go the way Republicans had expected in Senate races, either, with New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan easily besting a GOP challenger who had been projected to be on his way to beating her in polling reported several days before the election.

Things got significantly harder for the GOP early on Wednesday morning after the race for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania was called for John Fetterman, the progressive Lieutenant Governor who’d been locked in a tight battle with the Trump-endorsed ex-TV doctor Mehmet Oz,

Supporters of John Fetterman cheer after he defeated Republican candidate Mehmet Oz in Pittsburgh (EPA)

The open Senate seat Mr Fetterman will occupy come January has been occupied by Republican Pat Toomey since 2011, and the GOP had hoped to hold on to Mr Toomey’s seat in order to take the upper chamber back from Democrats, who’d had a bare majority since 2021 courtesy of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

Mr Fetterman’s victory makes it that much harder for the GOP to seize the reins in the Senate since they’ll now have to flip two Democratic seats, rather than have to pick up a single one.

And another Republican pickup hope — the Georgia seat held by Senator Raphael Warnock — looked to be in jeopardy early Wednesday when Mr Warnock’s results were approaching the 50 per cent threshold needed to win a full six-year term outright without the need for a runoff.

But even if neither Mr Warnock nor Mr Walker were to meet the requisite 50 per cent needed to avoid having to compete in that 6 December runoff election, that small victory for the GOP could present a recurring nightmare for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who saw his majority evaporate with runoff losses to Mr Warnock and Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff two years ago.

Three hours after he’d been expected to address supporters, Mr McCarthy finally arrived on the stage at GOP headquarters. Standing in front of a backdrop emblazoned with “taking back the House,” it wasn’t clear he’d be able to do anything of the sort.

But even as forecasters predicted that a GOP majority could be as small as a single member, giving the GOP 218 seats to Democrats’ 217, Mr McCarthy said House Republicans were “ready to deliver” a “new direction that will put America back on track”.

'Definitely not a Republican wave': Lindsey Graham on midterm elections

With control of both chambers still up for grabs, it’s unclear whether Republicans will be able to deliver anything at all, much less launch the myriad investigations of Mr Biden that they have promised.

So far, the only thing that is clear is that Republicans haven’t been able to capitalise on the high inflation and low approval ratings that have plagued Mr Biden since midway through the first year of his term.

Instead, the conditions that most observers said would lead to a GOP rout have proved fertile for Democrats, in no small part thanks to Donald Trump, who personally endorsed and curated much of the GOP slate across the country.

His hand-picked candidates also faltered in the governor’s races where they’d threatened to upend basic tenets of democracy by tilting scales to Mr Trump’s favour in 2024.

And with the twice-impeached ex-president — who remains the subject of several active criminal investigations — still poised to announce that he will stand for election to the presidency at his Florida beach club next week, Republicans are now facing a nightmarish case of déjà vu: a Georgia runoff at a time when Mr Trump — not Mr Biden — remains front and centre in voters’ minds.

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