Joe Biden received a surprise boost on Wednesday as Democrats defied history and exceeded expectations in the U.S. midterm election, leaving control of Congress on the edge.
As ballots were still being counted across the country, Democrats held out hope of holding the Senate while Republicans felt they were on course to win the House of Representatives – but by a much narrower margin than had been widely predicted.
Biden looked set for the party’s best midterm performance by an incumbent president since George W Bush 20 years ago. But maybe the biggest loser of the night was his predecessor, Donald Trump, as many of his hand-picked candidates crumbled in defeat, casting further doubt on his political future.
The party that controls the White House typically loses seats in a midterm election, and opinion polls have shown widespread dissatisfaction with Biden and the economy. The conditions seemed ripe for a so-called Republican “red wave” that could have drowned out the president’s legislative agenda.
But he it didn’t happen that way and a day that was supposed to dawn with Democratic soul-searching was filled with Republican finger-pointing and recriminations instead.
“The Republican Party needs to do some very deep soul-searching in the mirror right now because this is an absolute disaster,” said former Bush editor Marc Thiessen. told the Fox News Network.
The results of the hottest Senate races gave many Republicans heartburn on Wednesday. Biden had campaigned hard in Pennsylvania, his home state, and was rewarded when John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor who suffered a stroke during the campaign, won a Senate race against Mehmet Oz, a famous doctor who endorsed by Trump.
Sen. Mark Kelly maintained a lead over Republican Blake Masters in Arizona, while Kelly’s colleague from Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, fell behind her opponent. But hundreds of thousands of ballots remain uncounted in those races, and election officials have warned it could take days to determine the winners.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock, a pastor, and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a former American football star, appeared to be heading for a runoff on December 6, a race that could determine control of the upper house depending on the results from other states.
Republicans had been heavily favored to take the House and won a major symbolic prize, winning the New York seat of Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the leader of the Democrats’ campaign arm.
But the widespread gains that many forecasters had predicted did not materialize. Vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan held their ground, keeping the party’s hopes of controlling the House hours after polls closed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed optimism about the election results in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“While many races remain too close to call, it’s clear that House Democratic members and candidates are sharply outperforming expectations across the country,” Pelosi said. “As states continue to tally the final results, every vote should be counted as cast.”
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Minority Leader, appeared at 1:59 a.m., much later than expected, at an event in Washington and declared: “It is clear that we are going to take over the house.”
McCarthy later announced his candidacy to become president if Republicans won the House. But with a wafer-thin majority, he could face plenty of political headaches as pro-Trump hardliners seek to dominate the party’s agenda.
David Axelrod, former Barack Obama strategist, tweeted“The best news from yesterday’s election is that it was a rebuke, if not a rejection, by independent voters of election denial and right-wing extremism. But the perverse result is that we could have a nominally R Congress in which Holocaust deniers and extremists hold the balance of power.
The results also provided welcome news for abortion rights supporters who were devastated by the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade case in June. California, Vermont and Michigan voted to strengthen abortion rights in their constitutions, while conservative states Kentucky and Montana rejected measures to restrict access to the procedure.
Early exit polls suggested abortion rights had been a motivating factor for many voters who cast their ballots on Tuesday, despite earlier predictions that the issue would be overshadowed by economic concerns. An exit survey conducted by Edison Research found that 27% of voters named abortion their top priority, compared to 31% who said the same about inflation.
Threats to democracy also seemed to weigh heavily on the minds of voters as they headed to the polls. According PA Voting44% of voters said the future of democracy was their top concern when choosing their favorite candidates, making it the second most common answer behind inflation.
Overall, it was a bad night for Holocaust deniers and Donald Trump-backed candidates. Although dozens of holders who contested the 2020 presidential results won, deniers in the major gubernatorial and secretary of state elections were on course for defeat.
Democrats won the gubernatorial races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – crucial battlegrounds in the recent presidential elections and likely to be crucial again in 2024. Many saw this as another rebuke from Trump and his “Make America great again” (Maga) movement after their losses in 2018 and 2020.
Ezra Levin, co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible, said, “It was supposed to be Maga’s triumphant night. It turned into a huge embarrassment. While we’re still awaiting final results, the big picture is clear: Democrats have overwhelmingly executed on the midterm fundamentals. Voters don’t like anti-abortion fanatics. Voters don’t like Holocaust deniers. Voters don’t like Trump. And voters don’t like Maga.
While a number of Trump-endorsed candidates have fallen to Democratic opponents, others have played down their connection to the former president. JD Vance, who won the Republican Senate primary in Ohio largely on Trump’s endorsement, did not mention his name during his victory speech on Tuesday night.
The election results would have infuriated Trump, who is expected to announce another presidential campaign as early as next week. Even more worrying for him, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has often been named as a potential presidential candidate, easily won re-election.
DeSantis’ 19-point win in Trump’s current home state — including some largely Latino counties such as Miami-Dade and Osceola — has only intensified talk of his 2024 plans.
In a potential sign of trouble for Trump, the New York Post, which the former president is known to read avidly, put a photo of DeSantis on its Wednesday cover. “DeFuture”, the title of the cover reads. “Young GOP star DeSantis takes victory in Florida.”
DeSantis’ glowing cover is sure to irritate Trump, who is famous for lashing out at his fellow Republicans who upstage him and who last week referred to the governor as “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
In a preview of a potentially bloody primary election, Trump told Fox News on Tuesday: “I think if he does run he could get hurt really badly. I really believe he could get hurt badly. I’ll tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering – I know more about him than anyone – except, maybe, his wife.