09 November 2022

US midterm elections: ‘Red wave’ fails to appear for Republicans

09 November 2022

For weeks, Republicans had predicted a “red wave” would carry them to power in the US congress, with voters rejecting majority Democrats for failing over skyrocketing inflation and rising crime.

The reality appears far different after early midterm election results on Wednesday, with a more mixed picture rather than the wholesale rejection of President Joe Biden and his party Republicans had hoped for.

Many Democratic incumbents proved surprisingly resilient, outperforming their party’s own expectations. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman won an open senate seat currently held by the Republicans, with other key races that will determine control of the chamber remaining too close to call.

It appears likely that Republican gains will be on far less favourable terms than anticipated.Here are some key points from this year’s US midterm elections:

– To be continued

Republicans had hoped for a wipeout. They did not get it.

After Democrats racked up several hard-fought wins in swing districts, such as Abigail Spanberger’s Virginia seat, the sweeping wins many Republicans predicted had yet to materialise. Meanwhile, the fate of the Democrats’ narrow hold on the US senate is unclear.

Mr Fetterman defeated Republican Dr Mehmet Oz for a crucial Pennsylvania senate seat vacated by retiring Republican senator Pat Toomey.

Democratic senator Raphael Warnock and former NFL star Herschel Walker, a Republican, are locked in a close contest in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin race between Republican senator Ron Johnson and Democrat Mandela Barnes hangs in the balance.

The outcome of the remaining two seats that will determine which party will hold a senate majority – Arizona and Nevada – may not be known for days, because both states conduct elections in part by mail ballots, which take a long time to count.

– History lesson

In historical terms, the party that celebrates winning the White House is usually mourning a loss in the midterms two years later.

Add to that historical pattern an economy battered by inflation and teetering on recession, throw in fears about crime, and the outcome is close to certain.

For Mr Biden and House Democrats, the likelihood of keeping power in the lower chamber of congress was always slight.

Republicans have expected to gain enough seats to retake the majority. If successful, they also have plans to neuter Mr Biden’s agenda for the next two years.

Since 1906, there have been only three midterms in which the party of the president in power gained House seats: 1934, when the country was struggling with a Depression; 1998, when the US was buoyed by a soaring economy; and 2002, when then-president George W Bush had a sky-high approval rating amid the national feeling of unity after the September 11 attacks.

– Is Florida still a swing state?

Governor Ron DeSantis and senator Marco Rubio, both Republicans, offer the latest evidence that Florida is becoming increasingly red. They soared to early re-election victories on Tuesday, both winning Miami-Dade County, which Democrat Hillary Clinton carried by 29 percentage points in 2016.

Florida has been a classic battleground. It twice helped propel Barack Obama to the White House. But the state, where the number of registered Democrats exceeded Republicans in 2020, has shifted increasingly to the right.

That is thanks to Republicans making inroads with Hispanic voters, as well as an influx of new residents, including many retirees, drawn to its lack of an income tax as well as its sunny weather.

“Democrats really have to think about how they are going to rebuild there. The Obama coalition no longer exists,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former member of congress, who called Florida “off the map for the foreseeable future” to Democrats.

Mr DeSantis won the governor’s office in 2018 by only about 30,000 votes. On Tuesday, he flipped at least six counties that he lost that year. Those counties were carried by Mr Biden just two years ago.

– Was it a ‘red wave’ or a ripple?

Whether a red ripple will carry Republicans will not likely be known for days or weeks as states that conduct their elections largely by mail, such a California, continue counting votes.

One thing is certain: It is unlikely to match 2010’s tea party wave, which netted 63 seats, or the Newt Gingrich-led House takeover of 1994, which ousted 54 Democrats and flipped the chamber to Republican control for the first time since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.

One reason that will not happen is that there are not that many competitive seats.

The end result? Far less interest in compromise and more gridlock in the halls of congress.

– What do Republicans want?

Mr Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was celebrated as a cornerstone of the Republicans’ 1994 house takeover for offering a concrete list of policies the Republicans would pursue if put in power.

Now Republicans are far more circumspect about their aims.

“That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell he told reporters in January.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has offered up a “Commitment to America” – a list of priorities that fits on a pocket-sized card he carries with him that is heavy on slogans and light on detail.

Both may be attempting to avoid the plight of Mr Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” became a liability when Republicans failed to enact it.

House Republicans have said they intend to investigate Mr Biden and his administration. They have also called for a renewed focus on fiscal restraint, a crackdown on illegal immigration at America’s southern border and increased domestic energy production.

Much of it may not matter. Mr Biden, after all, has a veto pen.

– Most expensive midterms

The 2022 elections are on track to cost 16.7 billion dollars (£14.5 billion) at the state and federal level, making them the most expensive midterms ever, according to the nonpartisan organisation OpenSecrets.

For perspective: The contests will nearly double the cost of the 2010 midterm elections, more than double the 2014 midterms and are on pace to roughly equal the 2022 gross domestic product of Mongolia.

At least 1.1 billion dollars (£955,000) given at the federal level so far this election season has come from a small coterie of donors, many of whom have favoured conservative causes.

“When you look at the top 25 individual donors, conservative donors heavily outweigh liberal donors by 200 million dollars (£173 million),” said Brendan Glavin, a senior data analyst for OpenSecrets. “There’s a big skew.”

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel (32.6 million dollars/£28 million), shipping goods magnate Richard Uihlein (80.7 million dollars/£70 million), hedge fund manager Ken Griffin (68.5 million dollars/£59.5 million) and Timothy Mellon, an heir to to a Gilded Age Fortune who gave 40 million dollars (£34.7 million), are among the top conservative donors.

On the liberal side, hedge fund founder George Soros gave the most (128 million dollars/£111 million), though much of it has yet to be spent.

Sam Bankman Fried, a liberal 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire, gave 39.8 million dollars (£34.5 million).

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