Defying political gravity, Democrats have avoided defeat in the Senate and could even score a victory.
President Joe Biden’s party flipped Pennsylvania and held on to every other seat (bar Georgia, where the Senate race is headed for a runoff on Dec. 6), a result that few other presidents have enjoyed in the past.
The Republicans are currently projected to win a slim majority in the House of Representatives, although 20 races remain too close to call. Still, Democrats’ losses in the lower chamber are fewer than forecast, scoring one of the best midterm results for the party in the last century.
Typically, the political party in the White House loses popularity, and therefore seats, in the midterm elections. There are a number of reasons for this: an overall lower voter turnout compared to presidential elections, those dissatisfied with the status quo being more likely to head to the ballots than those who support it, and swing voters switching their vote away from the ruling party depending on how economic and social conditions have fared.
Ahead of the Nov. 8 vote, Biden recorded low popularity rates in the polls as inflation touched 40-year highs. The odds appeared to be in Republicans’ favor, but the conservative party ultimately failed to get a leg up in the Senate races. Voters showed up for abortion rights, and against Donald Trump and candidates who doubted or rejected the outcome of the 2020 election .
Only on three occasions since 1922 has the president’s party gained (or lost no) Senate seats.
FDR gained seats in both chambers of Congress in his first midterms after promising a “new deal” to help Americans beat the great depression.
JFK lost four seats in the House but gained three in the Senate. Part of the credit goes to his rising popularity from his handling of high-octane tensions which eventually came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
George Bush added some seats in both the House and Senate as support for his administration grew after the Sept. 11 Twin Towers attack.
First, John Fetterman’s win against surgeon-turned-celebrity Mehmet Oz gave Democrats a burst of hope.
On Saturday Nov. 12, Mark Kelly’s re-election in Arizona put the Democrats one vote away from clinching the Senate. The former NASA astronaut, who won a second term in a state that has historically voted red, has at times criticized Biden on issues such as immigration.
Later that day, the Nevada race results cemented the Democrats’ held of the Senate. When the tight race was called in Catherine Cortez Masto’s favor, Republicans’ 1994-like “red wave” talk fell flat on its head.
Now, Masto’s win over Trump-backed Adam Laxalt gives Democrats an opportunity to clinch an outright Senate majority if they win in Georgia’s December runoff.
Neither candidate in the Georgia Senate race won an outright majority, so the top two, Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, will face off in a runoff election on Dec 6. (Ironically, two black contenders will face-off with a tradition that was originally designed to keep Black voters away from the polls.)
Independently, a Warnock win would make history considering there has never been a midterm where every incumbent who sought another term won their primary and general elections since the popular vote for US senators were established in 1913.
In the context of the Senate, Warnock’s win would give Democrats a clear majority, so vice president Kamala Harris wouldn’t have to be the tie-breaker.
“I’m incredibly pleased by the turnout. And I think it’s a reflection of the quality of our candidates. And they’re all running on the same program. There wasn’t anybody who wasn’t running on what we did. They’re all staying, sticking with it. And so, I feel good. I’m looking forward to the next couple years.” —President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters on Nov. 13
Many members of the Republican party, including Trump and his former White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, are blaming Minority Leader of the US Senate Mitch McConnell for losing the Arizona election. The Senate Leadership Fund, led by McConnell, withdrew broadcast ad spending from Arizona candidate Blake Masters to the tune of $9 million, and instead gave it to Lisa Murkowski, who was up against another Republican-backed nominee in Alaska. McConnell also spent more on Colorado than he did on Arizona, to little avail.
As the tense Arizona race trotted on, Masters said: “The people who control the purse strings, Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell—McConnell decided to spend millions of dollars attacking a fellow Republican in Alaska instead of helping me defeat Senator Mark Kelly. Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over, we’d be celebrating a Senate Majority right now.”
A disgruntled Masters said McConnell does not deserve to be a majority or minority leader, highlighting growing divisions regarding the future of the Republican party leadership.