Red Wave Meets Blue Riptide

Posted on Friday, November 18, 2022
by AMAC Newsline
New York Governor Kathy Hochul in a red dress talking to press microphones

AMAC Exclusive – By Barry Casselman

The new narrative is that the predicted red wave in the 2022 national mid-term elections failed to appear.

Large-scale net gains in the U.S. House and Senate, anticipated by Republicans and feared by Democrats, did not happen. Polls indicating that some Democratic incumbent Senators and House members could lose also did not prove as accurate as conservatives hoped. A blue riptide seemed to cut against the red wave.

But what did actually happen?

The total generic congressional vote gave Republican House candidates about 4 million more votes (about 4 percent) than Democratic candidates received. This was about equal to what most pre-election polls predicted. But many of those who interpreted those generic polls assumed that the totals of congressional vote in large states such as California and New York would have the same margins as the 2020 presidential vote. In fact, the generic vote in such large blues states was much closer than 2020, especially in New York, and so a four-point popular vote lead did not translate into as many seats as expected. Republicans did pick up several seats — enough when all races are decided to narrowly control the U.S. House, one of their two main goals.

Interestingly, when you factor in the unexpected 13-seat GOP gain in the House in 2020, the combined total gain is about average for a mid-term election.

Not a dramatic tsunami, but a key outcome.

In the Senate races, one race has not yet been decided, and will depend on a December 6 run-off in Georgia, as neither candidate received the required 50% of the vote. Many Republicans were anticipating winning more Senate races, but the pre-election polls only predicted that many Senate races Democrats actually won would be close. Democrats will continue to control the Senate.

On a net basis, the 2022 midterms were a modestly positive GOP outcome. Before this year’s elections, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by small margins, so change of control in one, even by a small margin, has important consequences.

In races for governor, Democrats made a net gain of two. But winning in Massachusetts and Maryland, both very blue states, did not amount to a significant plus, since retiring GOP governors in those very liberal states were not very conservative. Liberals narrowly picked up a governor in Arizona, but conservatives defeated a Democratic governor in Nevada.

Both parties handicapped themselves by nominating a few very weak or eccentric nominees for some offices. The quality of candidates does matter a great deal, and this election reinforced this important political rule.

Campaign funding also matters. Democrats outraised and outspent Republicans dramatically in several close races. Democrats benefitted from Act Blue, their small-dollar fundraising platform, and from very large funding from super-rich donors through numerous SuperPACs. Their financial advantage in 2022 enabled them to advertise early in the campaign and then blitz at the end in critical contests, something Republicans rarely could or did match.

Fearing a red tsunami, Democrats went hardball and personal in the final days of the campaign in several close races. Like it or not, this strategy often works, and it seemed to have rescued several liberal candidates from possible defeat.

Second thoughts after initial feelings of disappointment for Republicans indicate a more positive sense of what happened in the 2022 national mid-term elections. On the other hand, Democrats will still feel considerable relief that the GOP did not win a rout.

The consequences for the 2024 presidential election might be very interesting. A GOP landslide in 2022 would have probably forced President Biden to announce he would not seek a second term, something many Democrats called for before the 2022 election. Now, however, this outcome would seem much more in doubt.

At the same time, the impressive re-election win in Florida of Governor Ron DeSantis gives Republicans a credible alternative for their party’s nomination — against former President Donald Trump (who just publicly announced he will run again in 2024). Fair or not, some conservatives are blaming Mr. Trump for their disappointing results in 2022. Of course, the 2024 cycle has barely begun, but it seems that the 2022 cycle will have some impact on the next presidential campaign.