High inflation. Low approval ratings for President Joe Biden. Polls showing that the majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the direction of the country.
The big picture heading into the 2022 midterm elections looked bleak for headlines across the country, and for Democrats in particular, as many braced for voter outrage after Republican-led attacks on the crime, immigration and high food and gas prices. But the first tallies show that voters have largely chosen to keep their members in Congress.
Of more than 365 House districts in which an incumbent has faced re-election, only six Democrats have so far lost their seats: Iowa’s Cindy Axne, Virginia’s Elaine Luria, New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney, New Jersey’s Tom Malinowski, Al Lawson of Florida. and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona. All six were competing in places where redistricting had hampered their chances.
On the Republican side, that number is three: Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mayra Flores of Texas, and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico.
In the Senate, no incumbent has yet lost re-election, although three Democrats in battleground states — Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Mark Kelly in Arizona and Raphael Warnock in Georgia — remain in heated races.
“Without the most vulnerable Democratic races settled, it’s hard to draw broad conclusions,” said Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes congressional races. “But so far, there doesn’t seem to have been, in either chamber, an anti-incumbent wave.”
If Cortez Masto, Kelly and Warnock hold out, Rubashkin added, it will be the first time any Senate incumbent has lost a general election since 1914. That was the first election after the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which provided for a popular election. of senators rather than their appointment by state legislatures.
Democrats attribute their victories to strong candidates, strong fundraising and effective messaging on abortion, and legislative accomplishments such as a major bipartisan infrastructure package and measures to reduce prescription drug costs. “Our members were able to show that they were really delivering for their communities,” said Chris Hayden, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
They also pointed to the weaknesses of Republican candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump, some of whom amplified lies of a stolen 2020 election and took absolutist stances on abortion, which Democrats attacked as extremists.
Republicans countered that they had, in effect, defeated the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents even before the midterm campaign began.
“We spent the first part of the cycle aggressively persuading Democrats to retire,” said Calvin Moore, spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super political action committee dedicated to electing House Republicans. “So a lot of the competitive seats were open seats. If their candidates are so strong, why did they all run for the hills?
The whole image is more complex and remains fluid.
Elections officials have not finished counting ballots in close races in two battleground states, Arizona and Nevada. In Arizona, Kelly, a Democrat who won a 2020 special election to fill John McCain’s Senate seat after his death, has been slightly ahead of his Republican rival, Blake Masters. And a Republican House incumbent in a competitive district there, Rep. David Schweikert, trailed only slightly behind his Democratic opponent.
But those results could change as election officials begin counting hundreds of thousands of votes cast on Election Day that could favor Republicans.
In Nevada, Cortez Masto, a Democrat, has been locked in a fierce contest with her Republican challenger, Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, and the votes are still being counted.
On Friday night, The Associated Press reported that three of Nevada’s Democratic incumbents in the House defeated their Republican opponents. But the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, lost his race to Joseph Lombardo, the Trump-backed Clark County sheriff who ran as a law-and-order Republican.
Several close races in competitive districts across the country have yet to be called, including one for a Democratic House incumbent in Maine and four in California.
In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a centrist Republican seeking a fourth full term in Washington, and her Trump-backed Republican rival, Kelly Tshibaka, are headed toward a ranked-choice finale in the state’s new electoral system. . In Georgia, Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, and his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, are headed for a runoff election in December.
Nonpartisan election analysts said the lack of losses among Democratic incumbents appeared to be a testament to strong candidates who ran solid campaigns and showed they were serious about heated races. Among them was Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who promoted his work on bills to expand infrastructure funding, promote domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and reduce child poverty.
In Washington state, Sen. Patty Murray, who won a sixth term, faced a strong Republican challenge but won by signing climate legislation, lowering prescription drug costs and protecting abortion rights.
Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota defeated her Republican challenger, Tyler Kistner, in one of the closest House races in the country by focusing her campaign on abortion rights and promoting support for law enforcement officials . In Virginia, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat, focused on abortion and her work on infrastructure and fighting gun violence and won her race.
Spanberger also portrayed her opponent, Yesli Vega, as an extremist after she was recorded describing the people arrested in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol as unfairly targeted and falsely suggesting that pregnancy from rape was unlikely because “It’s not something that’s happening.” organically.”
Money has also played a role. Kelly, who has a path to victory in Arizona, and Reps. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan were among Democrats in competitive electoral contests who far outscored their rivals in fundraising and emerged victorious.
For the Republican incumbents, voter discontent worked in their favor. In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson, a right-wing Republican given to spreading misinformation, won a third term, repelling a challenge from Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in one of the nastiest races in the country and the most expensive in Wisconsin history.
Johnson and his allies bombarded Barnes with ads portraying him as an anti-American radical soft on crime. He won by a single percentage point, even as the state’s current governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat, was re-elected by a comfortable margin.