The votes are still being tallied in the 2022 midterms. Many key races haven’t been called as of early Wednesday morning, and we don’t know who will control either chamber of Congress. That means we also don’t know the answer to many of the big questions these midterms presented.
Those questions may take weeks to resolve. But before ranked-choice tabulations occur in Maine and Alaska, let alone a potential Senate runoff in Georgia, there are a few clear lessons to be taken from the races called so far.
Winner: Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis may have had the best night of any Republican in the country. The Florida governor won what was once a swing state by a margin of nearly 20 points, and won base Democratic counties — or at least what were once base Democratic counties — like Palm Beach and Miami Dade. DeSantis built on Republican gains among Hispanic voters in Florida in 2020, including among Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans in metro Miami, and Puerto Ricans in metro Orlando. He also ended up carrying 62 of Florida’s 67 counties.
The huge win positions DeSantis for a potential 2024 presidential campaign, and it makes him the symbol of Republican success on a night that was underwhelming for the rest of the GOP. Florida was the one of the few states where expectations for a “red wave” came to pass.
Beyond Florida, the red wave didn’t wash ashore on Tuesday.
Given all the hype of a big night for Republicans in the days and weeks before Election Day, it was a disappointing evening for them. The expectation that Republicans would not just win toss-up races, but carry races where they were underdogs, did not come to pass. The frantic fight to take credit for the wins on Tuesday afternoon was already turning into a frenetic effort to avoid taking the blame on Wednesday morning.
The GOP may still end up capturing control of both chambers of Congress when all the votes are counted, but it would not be the type of win that some Republicans expected even in the hours before polls closed on Tuesday. Instead, it would be by narrow margins that will prove far short of GOP dreams of winning historic majorities in the House and picking up enough seats in the Senate to set themselves up for a filibuster-proof supermajority after 2024. And wins at this point will represent incremental gains for Republicans who were only able to grasp the lowest-hanging fruit.
Loser: Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump’s candidates had a lackluster night on Tuesday, and there’s potential for this to turn into an embarrassing election season for him as more races are called.
In Georgia, his handpicked Senate candidate Herschel Walker ran far behind the rest of the GOP ticket. While Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, the incumbent governor and secretary of state whom Trump backed unsuccessful primary challenges against, won easily, Walker lagged behind them. With over 95 percent of the vote reporting, the former NFL player was just behind incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.
In Pennsylvania, Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz lost a Senate seat to the state’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Oz’s primary win over hedge fund mogul Dave McCormick and conservative activist Kathy Barnette was attributed to Trump’s endorsement, and he trailed Fetterman for most of the general election. In Michigan, Trump endorsed a former official in his administration, John Gibbs, against incumbent Republican Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted for impeachment. Gibbs won the primary, but lost on Tuesday night.
There were some wins for Trump: J.D. Vance won handily in the Ohio Senate race, for example, after Trump picked him in the primary and rallied for him throughout the general. But several races remain to be called where Trump put his finger on the scale (like Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake). All of that will call into question Trump’s political acumen as his favored candidates underperformed, while a top 2024 rival — DeSantis — had a successful night.
Winner: Baseline partisanship
The incumbent Republican governor won handily in Oklahoma on Tuesday night while the incumbent Democrat notched a victory in New York. The quick, clear results were mildly surprising, based on public polls that had Democrat Joy Hofmeister ahead of Gov. Kevin Stitt in Oklahoma and Gov. Kathy Hochul neck and neck with GOP challenger Lee Zeldin in New York.
But it turned out Democrats in Democratic states ended up voting for Democrats, while Republicans in Republican states voted for Republicans.
This didn’t hold everywhere. Incumbent Democrat Laura Kelly was in a strong position in the Kansas governor’s race early Wednesday, while Republicans seemed well placed in open congressional seats in New York. But more often than not, voters voted how one would expect them to. Republicans couldn’t pull off upsets they were optimistic about in Democratic-leaning congressional districts in Virginia and Rhode Island, and MAGA candidates couldn’t win statewide in states like Minnesota and New Hampshire, where Trump had never won in a general election. The result was a night that resembled the same political terrain fought over in 2020, with candidates winning narrowly in swing states after hard-fought and expensive races.
Loser: Kevin McCarthy
House Republicans are still favored to regain the majority in Congress, four years after losing it in the 2018 midterms, and current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is still favored to be the speaker of the House if they do. He sounded upbeat in remarks early Wednesday. “You are out late, but when you wake up tomorrow, we will be the majority and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority,” he said.
But if McCarthy’s hair was not already uniformly silver, it would be turning gray after this Election Day.
If the GOP prevails, the House Republican leader will have to manage a far smaller majority than he had hoped. One member of Congress said earlier in the fall that McCarthy would need a big majority — one greater than 20 seats — to be guaranteed to win the speaker’s gavel in 2023.
Projections early Wednesday morning left it unclear he will hit that total, and the GOP will certainly fall short of the 60 seats that McCarthy boasted were in play just a year ago after Glenn Youngkin’s win in the Virginia governor’s race. That leaves him likely to manage a slender majority, a task that drove the last two Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, out of politics, as fractious right-wingers constantly rebelled against them.