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Where Democrats got it right in the midterm elections — and where they got it very wrong

Suburban women and Latinos came out in unexpected numbers for the Dems on Tuesday. But elsewhere, it was clear mistakes had been made

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Friday 11 November 2022 10:28 GMT
Republicans blame Trump for lack of ‘red wave’ in midterms

With the dust now settling after the events of Tuesday night, we have a better idea of how Democrats defied the historical trend where the president’s party typically gets blown out in its first midterm year.

To be sure, the House looks far more likely to shift to Republicans on Thursday morning than it did in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. And Republicans also held three out of the four Senate seats they needed to protect to even have a shot at the majority – North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio.

But what is clear is that Democrats still have a chance at holding the Senate, especially with Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker’s Georgia match going into overtime with a runoff race next month. The endangered Senator Maggie Hassan easily won re-election in New Hampshire and John Fetterman triumphed in Pennsylvania. If Mark Kelly wins a full term in Arizona and if mail-in ballots go Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s way in Nevada – as seems to be happening so far — then the Dems might really do it.

As a clearer image appears amid a map of red and blue, it’s easier to see where Democrats did well, where they missed opportunities, and where they flopped. We told you which races to watch here and here, so we’ll use the same measures now.

The Good: Suburbs, New England and Latinos

Female anger about the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v Wade turned into a bulwark against a Republican onslaught. Democrats holding Virginia’s 10th and the 7th districts were the first positive signs of that. While Republicans knocked out January 6 committee member Elaine Luria in Virginia’s 2nd district, they did so largely because her seat’s electorate became far redder after the most recent round of redistricting.

Democrats also didn’t do too badly in New England. We said if Jahana Hayes lost in Connecticut’s 5th district, Republicans could break through, but in the end, she beat George Logan back. That was a major encouragement for the party, as was Seth Magaziner’s victory in Rhode Island’s 2nd district and Chris Pappas’s in New Hampshire’s 1st.

The most surprising area of growth, though? Democrats did relatively well in heavily Latino districts.

While it’s true that Republicans ran the table in heavily Latino South Florida, that area of the country has politics all their own. While Texas Republican Monica De La Cruz won the new 15th district in the Rio Grande Valley, Democrat Vicente Gonzalez beat back Republican Mayra Flores in the redrawn 34th (and this after she won a special election earlier this year.) Meanwhile, Representative Henry Cuellar — a Democrat — won in Texas’s 28th district. Democrats also picked up Colorado’s newly-drawn 8th district.

All this should help Democrats breathe easier as Arizona and Nevada inch towards their Senate results.

The Missed Opportunities: Ohio and North Carolina

Plenty of Democrats are lamenting that Representative Tim Ryan failed to trounce now-Senator-elect JD Vance in Ohio’s Senate race. But his race would always be difficult in a state where Donald Trump won. And his candidacy probably helped Democrats in swing districts, so it ultimately counts as a net plus.

The same can’t be said about North Carolina. There was reason to be hopeful for Cheri Beasley in her Senate race against Trump-endorsed Ted Budd, but national Democrats, probably feeling burdened by far too many Senate races, invested very little in the race. That was a bad decision, considering Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund spent $38.3m attacking their candidate. North Carolina Democrats have every right to be mad about that – especially given they flipped the state’s 13th district and clung on in its 1st even after redistricting made it a tougher hold.

The Downright Bad: New York and Wisconsin

For the serendipitous events on Tuesday, no state caused Democrats more heartburn than New York.

Back in April, the state’s Court of Appeals rejected a congressional map concocted by Democrats to shore up their party. That in turn led to a new map that was much less favorable to Democrats. Despite the fact that Governor Kathy Hochul won overall, as city and state results came in, it was clear that downballot Democrats had suffered where she lost.

Nowhere was this clearer than Long Island, where Republicans won four seats. The carnage was so bad that Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, lost his race in the 17th district despite the fact he moved seats to give himself an easier run — muscling out progressive Representative Mondaire Jones in the process.

Similarly, even as the party is in “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mode after its North Carolina Senate defeat, national Democrats ranging from James Clyburn to Elizabeth Warren will be downcast to see their work for Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes gone to waste in Wisconsin. There were high hopes that Barnes could take down GOP Senator Ron Johnson, but he ended up getting absolutely slammed on crime – attacks that likely kept him from winning a flippable race.

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