Democrats and Republicans have tested their strength after two years of the Joe Biden administration. Americans went to the polls on Tuesday to renew all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Midterm legislative elections generally translate into bad news for the occupant of the White House, whose party tends to get punished. Bill Clinton lost 54 congressmembers in 1994. In 2010, Barack Obama saw his party’s representation shrink by 63 seats. The same thing has happened to Republicans, who lost 40 seats in 2018, when the Trump administration turned two years old. This time, however, Biden seems to have been spared the worst, as it was widely believed that a red wave was going to sweep away a weak president with low approval ratings. The conservatives are now in a good position to control the House of Representatives, but the fight for the Senate seems far from over.
In the midst of a stark political struggle, women’s rights slipped among the priority issues of the day. As expected, abortion rights were on the minds of voters in the first post-Roe v. Wade race. Democrats mobilized many voters on this issue, which was present on ballot measures in five states. These are some keys takeaways from the election.
House of Representatives
By early Wednesday morning, Republicans had snatched seven seats from their opponents in the lower house, which has been controlled by the Democrats since 2019. The magic number to gain control of the chamber is 218, and both parties were still far from this number. Still, Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who would become the House speaker if Republicans take control of the chamber, showed enormous optimism. “When you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be history,” McCarthy told supporters in Bakersfield, California. His attitude was based on a handful of races, including a New York district that the Republicans took after Biden had won it two years ago by 17 points. Republicans also took four districts in Florida and promised to sweep Iowa. “These are historic gains ... we’re expanding this party.” Despite this, Democrats held their own in places where they were expected to be wiped out, especially in South Texas. “The red wave did not happen. Republicans and independents stayed home. Don’t complain about the results if you don’t do your part,” wrote Mayra Flores, a Republican who sought to return to Washington and failed, in a Twitter message.
The composition of the upper house is being decided by a dozen contests whose outcomes are crucial to break the 50-50 tie between Democrats and Republicans (and where Vice President Kamala Harris can break the tie with her vote). The Democrats won one of the most coveted battles at midnight. It was in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman, who survived a stroke in May, narrowly defeated Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. In Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, the only Latina senator in Washington, must keep her seat to prevent the Democrats from losing the Senate.
These were the first elections held since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The decision of the court’s conservative majority had mobilized tens of thousands of voters across the country. This was particularly noticeable in the race in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer was seeking re-election with this issue among her priorities. The voters agreed. In addition, Vermont became the first to protect abortion rights in its state constitution. State voters approved Article 22, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, which protects women’s rights from the bans that an eventual Republican-held Congress would seek to impose nationwide. Three other states voted on similar ballot measures: California, Michigan and Montana. In a fourth, Kentucky, abortion rights groups were closely following the outcome of a referendum where termination of pregnancy was at stake.
Although Democrats performed better than expected, Republicans who cast doubt on the 2020 election also scored important victories. According to a count by The Washington Post, some 150 election deniers had secured wins as of midnight. Most of these were in the House of Representatives, the site of an assault by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021. These deniers include the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who came out reinforced after a robust victory; Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Greg Pence of Indiana, who is the brother of Trump’s vice president Mike Pence. Other candidates who have served as loudspeakers for plot theories did not fare as well, such as Doug Mastriano, who was seeking to become governor of Pennsylvania, and Kari Lake, a former television host from Arizona who was backed by Trump.