Election takeaways, take 2: Congress control on knife's edge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wednesday was a day for sorting, sifting and framing of an expensive, exhaustive and highly negative midterm election campaign.

And nothing was quite yet certain, most importantly which party would control Congress or whether majority power would be split between the House and Senate.

But some things were obvious. Republicans did not achieve the “wave” election that many had predicted. Democrats won major statewide races and flipped a Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Abortion remained an animating issue.

Control of Congress was on a knife's edge, dependent on the outcome of three senate races and about a dozen in the House.

Here are some takeaways from this year's election:

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TO BE CONTINUED ...

Republicans hoped for a wipeout. They didn't get it. After Democrats racked up several hard-fought wins in swing districts, like Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s Virginia seat, the sweeping wins many Republicans predicted had yet to materialize Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the fate of Democrats' narrow hold on the Senate was unclear.

Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for a crucial Pennsylvania Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and former NFL star Herschel Walker, a Republican, were headed to a runoff in Georgia in December.

And 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.

Stay tuned.

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HISTORY LESSON

It’s called history for a reason. 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.

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 U.S. was buoyed by a soaring economy; and 2002, when President George W. Bush had a sky-high approval rating amid the national feeling of unity after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN CHIEF OUSTED

Democrats' unexpected good fortune did not extend to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, of New York, the chairman of the party's House campaign arm.

Maloney's defeat in a race for a Hudson Valley seat by Republican Mike Lawler made him the first serving House Democratic campaign chief to be defeated since Rep. James Corman, of California, in 1980.

Typically parties elect a campaign chair familiar with the struggles of frontline members, but insulated enough that they don't face a threat themselves.

Maloney's defeat was partially of his own making.

Democrats, including Maloney, urged the New York legislature to draw favorable congressional maps for the party during this year's redistricting. But the new maps were promptly challenged and struck down by a Republican judge who drew his own, which were far less advantageous.

That led Maloney to abandon his old seat in favor of a more Democratic leaning district held by first term Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones, who dropped out of the race.

That alienated progressives in the party, who supported Jones, while also forcing Maloney to compete on largely new turf. It also gave Republicans an opening.

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IS FLORIDA STILL A SWING STATE?

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Republicans, offer the latest evidence that Florida is becoming increasingly red. They soared to early reelection victories 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's thanks to GOP 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.

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 Biden just two years ago.

Some Democrats blame some of Tuesday’s blowout losses to a lack of investment by their party.

“This is what happens when national Democrats decide to not spend money in the state,” said Greg Goddard, a Democratic fundraising consultant from Florida who raised money for Rep. Val Demings' losing challenge of Rubio. “The pathway to Democrats winning future presidential elections is very thin if you do not plan to spend in Florida.”

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FROM INSURRECTION TO CONGRESS

Republicans nominated three candidates for Congress this year who were at or near the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Only one of them, Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, prevailed.

Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL who was photographed on the Capitol grounds and denies being in a restricted area or taking part in the attack, defeated Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff in Tuesday’s election to flip a Wisconsin congressional seat to Republicans.

In January, Van Orden will join the same body whose obligations and duties his presence helped disrupt.

While his case may be an outlier, he is among at least 30 Republican candidates elected to state-wide and federal offices during the midterms who have denied Biden’s 2020 victory, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Scores more who have raised concern about how the election was conducted also won.

The two other candidates who were present at the Capitol were handily defeated. Sandy Smith of North Carolina, lost her bid for a Democratic leaning seat by roughly 5 percentage points.

J.R. Majewksi lost his campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in a Trump leaning district by 13 percentage points.

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WHAT DO REPUBLICANS WANT?

Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was celebrated as a cornerstone of the Republicans’ 1994 House takeover for offering a concrete list of policies the GOP 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.

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 Gingrich whose “Contract with America” became a liability when Republicans failed to enact it.

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

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

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms.

Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press