Republicans Thought They Were Going to Win Big. Then They Didn’t.

Democrats are outperforming expectations and winning nearly every tossup race as they fight to hang onto Congress.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman speaks to supporters during an election night party on November 9, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman speaks to supporters during an election night party on November 9, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

So much for that red wave.

Democrats are doing much better than the polls, prognosticators, and both Democratic and Republican strategists expected in the midterm elections, keeping their hopes of maintaining Senate control very much alive. They’re even doing well enough that House Republicans’ long-expected majority is not guaranteed at this point.

There are still tons of votes to be counted, and it may be days or even weeks before some crucial races are called. But as of Wednesday morning, it’s clear that Democrats far exceeded expectations, with a big Senate win in Pennsylvania, victories in key governor’s races in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and a surprisingly strong showing in House races.

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While some more traditional Republicans posted big wins, it’s clear that the combination of former President Donald Trump’s meddling and fury over abortion bans has powered Democrats to a much better-than-expected showing. The electorate looked a lot more like the polarized America we saw come to the polls in 2020, which slightly preferred Democrats, than one where more voters wanted the GOP to return to power. That’s a stunning result given how the party out of power nearly always wins big in the midterm elections—and a sign of just how divided Americans are right now.

Here’s where things stand as of early Wednesday morning.

Senate

Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz in their hotly contested Senate race, giving Democrats a huge win in one of the four races that will decide Senate control. New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan cruised to reelection in a race that Republicans hoped they would flip if the 2022 elections turned into a real GOP wave.

That means Democrats need to win two of three remaining tossup Senate races to maintain Senate control—and they appear to have the edge in achieving this. 

There’s still a significant number of votes to be counted out West, but Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly currently leads his race against Trump-backed Blake Masters by a six-point margin and appears to have the edge as more ballots are counted. 

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Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto trails in her contest by more than 22,000 votes—but the remaining votes left to be counted appear likely to be heavily Democratic, making that race far from over. 

And Georgia’s Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican former NFL player Herschel Walker is coming down to the wire. A December runoff election seems the most likely outcome at this point since neither candidate is at 50 percent. The top staffer at Georgia’s Republican secretary of state’s office thinks a runoff is a near-certainty, though Warnock maintains a lead at this point and there’s a small chance he could still reach that threshold once all votes are counted.

House

Republicans will likely still win the House. But it appears increasingly likely that they’ll do so because of gerrymandered congressional maps in places like Florida rather than any actual political winds at their backs.

House Democrats have won almost all of the tossup races so far. And while Republicans still appear likely to net the six seats necessary to flip the House, the fact that this hasn’t happened yet shows how disappointing Tuesday night was for the GOP.

Lightning-rod Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert trails her Democratic opponent by a one-point margin with approximately 93 percent of the vote tabulated and could be headed for a major upset loss. New Mexico Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell also trails in her race with most of the vote counted, and Democrats defeated Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot.

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House Democrats in tough tossup races who already won their elections include Reps. Frank Mrvan in Indiana, Elissa Slotkin in Michigan, Angie Craig in Minnesota, Chris Pappas in New Hampshire, Henry Cuellar in Texas, and Angie Spanberger in Virginia, while Democratic incumbents in a half-dozen other tossup races currently lead in the count.

Democrats also won tossup races in suburban Pittsburgh, northeastern Ohio, and Rhode Island, while flipping a GOP-held open seat in North Carolina and a merged seat in South Texas. And they hold narrow leads in three competitive Nevada House races, where their leads are expected to grow.

Heading into election night, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted that Republicans would net eight seats from redistricting, enough for the majority, with 26 Democratic-held seats and 10 GOP-held seats as pure tossups. There’s not enough of the vote counted in California to look closely at those races yet, but setting aside those seats, Democrats lead in 24 of 31 of the total tossup races.

The only Democratic incumbent to lose so far is Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, though Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran trails in a district that became much more Republican in its redistricting. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski looks like he’ll lose as well, and New York Democrats lost an open seat in suburban New York City and may lose a few others, including the seat where Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Sean Patrick Maloney decided to run. And California will take a while longer to count ballots, with a half-dozen competitive House seats in the state yet to be decided.

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Governors and Statewide Offices

Democrats’ biggest successes so far came in the trio of Great Lakes states that decided both the 2016 and 2020 elections: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Michigan Democrats swept the statewide offices, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emerging victorious and Democrats for attorney general and secretary of state defeating election-denying conspiracists who won their GOP nominations. They held two hotly contested House seats, and it looks like they won control of the state legislature to have full control of Michigan’s government for the first time in four decades.

Pennsylvania Democrats also had a big night. Fetterman’s win came alongside Democratic  Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s big victory for governor, and they have won or lead in all three of the state’s competitive House seats.

And Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won reelection in a hard-fought race, with Democrats leading the attorney general’s race as well. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is ahead by just over one percentage point and appears likely to have won reelection—but his lead is narrow enough that his race has yet to be called—while it looks like Republicans picked up a western Wisconsin House seat where they were favored, but by a smaller-than-expected margin.

Where Republicans Won

It’s not all good news for Democrats. 

Republicans held onto Senate seats in North Carolina and Ohio, and Republican governors who put some space between themselves and Trump were easily reelected in Georgia, New Hampshire, and Ohio. 

And Florida turned into a particular bloodbath for Democrats, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio running up big margins in the former swing state and helping Republican House candidates pile up wins on a map DeSantis gerrymandered for maximal GOP wins. With the House as close as it is, the Republican gerrymander of the Florida congressional map could be a key reason why Republicans win House control.

While Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul prevailed in her race, her relatively weak performance could end up costing Democrats, as they lost one swing House seat already in the state and trail in three others while leading in only one.

But as of Wednesday morning, it’s clear that the big night Republicans had dreamed of and planned for never happened. And Trump—as well as the issue of abortion rights—are likely to blame.