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

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Supporters of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, waves signs during an election night party in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

WASHINGTON – 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.

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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:



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.



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.



House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy predicted last year that his party would net 60 seats. But as Republicans closed in on flipping the House Wednesday, the reality is that he will be forced to govern with a far slimmer majority. And it's about to be reinforced by a slate of far-right candidates who have made their ungovernability a point of pride.

That presents an unusual set of challenges as McCarthy looks to shore up support for his widely anticipated bid for House speaker.

The “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, movement sparked by Trump appears to have tightened its grip on Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of GOP voters say they support the MAGA movement, according to AP VoteCast, a sign of the potential gridlock with President Joe Biden’s White House should Republicans win majorities in the House or Senate.

Conservative firebrands, like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have already suggested they have an upper hand.

“I ran for Congress not just to defeat Democrats, but to hold my party accountable,” Greene said early Wednesday, shortly after McCarthy predicted a Republican victory. “I know precisely how these voters felt when they cast their ballot, sick and tired of empty promises, watching the DC swamp sell our country’s future out year after year.”

How McCarthy navigates the culture war impulses of this restive group with the party's broader aim of delivering for voters racked by inflation and economic worries presents a stress test for the GOP. And it will all play out against the backdrop of a presidential campaign Trump is eager to enter.

No pressure.



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.



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, of Ohio, in a Trump-leaning district by 13 percentage points.


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.

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