Midterm election takeaways: Control of US Congress on a knife’s edge

Midterm Election Takeaways: Control Of Us Congress On A Knife’s Edge
The US Capitol in Washington, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Brian Slodysko, Associated Press

After an expensive, exhaustive and highly negative US midterm election campaign, nothing is quite certain yet, most importantly which party will control Congress or whether majority power will be split between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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:

– To be continued…

Pennsylvania Lt Gov John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Pennsylvania, addresses supporters at an election night party in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania Lt Gov John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Pennsylvania, addresses supporters at an election night party in Pittsburgh (Gene J Puskar/AP)


Republicans hoped for a wipeout. They did not get it. After Democrats racked up several hard-fought wins in swing districts, such as Representative Abigail Spanberger’s Virginia seat, the sweeping wins many Republicans predicted had yet to materialise on 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 Senator Pat Toomey. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and former NFL star Herschel Walker, a Republican, were heading to a run-off 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 postal ballots, which take a long time to count.

Stay tuned.

– History lesson

It is 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 US 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 September 11 attacks.

– McCarthy’s migraine

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at an election event in Washington
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at an election event in Washington (Alex Brandon/AP)


Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, predicted last year that his party would net 60 seats. But as Republicans closed in on flipping the House on Wednesday, the reality is that he will be forced to govern with a far slimmer majority. And it is 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 Mr McCarthy looks to shore up support for his widely anticipated bid for House speaker.

The Make America Great Again, or MAGA, movement sparked by former president Donald Trump appears to have tightened its grip on Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of Republican 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, such as Georgia Representative 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,” Ms Greene said early on Wednesday, shortly after Mr 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 Mr 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 Republicans. And it will all play out against the backdrop of a presidential campaign Mr Trump is eager to enter.

No pressure.

– Democratic campaign chief ousted

Sean Patrick Maloney
Sean Patrick Maloney (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Democrats’ unexpected good fortune did not extend to Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, of New York, the chairman of the party’s House campaign arm.

Mr 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 Representative James Corman, of California, in 1980.

Typically parties elect a campaign chair familiar with the struggles of frontline members, but insulated enough that they do not face a threat themselves.

Mr Maloney’s defeat was partially of his own making.

Democrats, including Mr Maloney, urged the New York legislature to draw favourable 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 Mr Maloney to abandon his old seat in favour of a more Democratic-leaning district held by first term Democratic Representative Mondaire Jones, who dropped out of the race.

That alienated progressives in the party, who supported Mr Jones, while also forcing Mr Maloney to compete on largely new turf. It also gave Republicans an opening.

– From insurrection to Congress

The Senate at the Capitol in Washington
The Senate at the Capitol in Washington (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republicans nominated three candidates for Congress this year who were at or near the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. Only one of them, Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, prevailed.

Mr 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 Senator Brad Pfaff in Tuesday’s election to flip a Wisconsin congressional seat to Republicans.

In January, Mr 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 Mr 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 five percentage points.

JR Majewksi lost his campaign to unseat Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur in a Trump-leaning district by 13 percentage points.

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