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Eight Takeaways From the Midterms So Far

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 23: Empty voting booths are seen during Primary Election Day at PS 10 on August 23, 2022 in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City. Residents of NYC are voting in the second primary of the year due to the congressional redistricting process pushing back the congressional and State Senate primaries. The 10th District and 12th District races are two important congressional races happening in NYC. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) (Photographer: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images North America)

The midterm elections are neither a Republican landslide nor a Democratic surprise … but there is still a long way to go before we have winners in several key races, and control of the Senate isn’t likely to be known for a while.

Still, there are some clear lessons emerging from the night’s results. 

• Bad candidates cost the Republicans badly. Several Trump-backed extremists, including New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc and Pennsylvania gubernatorial contender Doug Mastriano, lost their races. Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker was running well behind more mainstream Republican candidates in the same state because voters split their tickets. 

• The Spin, Part I: If the Republican margin turns out to be smaller than the GOP had hoped, a scenario that looks increasingly likely, expect some in the party to make baseless accusations of voter fraud. We saw it happen in 2020, and we can expect some losing candidates or their supporters to extend the “stolen election” mantra into the midterm results. 

• The Spin, Part II: Once upon a time, in the 1980s and 1990s, both parties would play down their chances going into the election, sometimes comically so, to leave their candidates room to beat artificially low expectations. Republican operative Karl Rove changed all that in 2000; he thought that spinning the other way could generate momentum for his candidates on Election Day, which would matter a lot more than post-election spin. Many Republicans have emulated Rove, while Democrats by and large haven’t. The result tonight: Republicans may fall short of Rove-style high expectations and suffer in post-election punditry.

• Still, expectations matter: Republicans appear to be falling short of a different type of expectation based on what political scientists regard as election “fundamentals,” such as which party is in the White House and how popular the president is. Those core factors, and especially President Joe Biden’s popularity rating, which is hovering below 42%, suggested a tough night for Democrats. 

• Issues matter, too: Liberal ballot measures are off to a good start: Marijuana legalization won in Maryland, Medicaid expansion is winning in Republican South Dakota and abortion rights supporters have won in Vermont and are ahead in several other states including Republican Kentucky. It’s going to be some time before we know why Republicans failed to capitalize on what appeared to be a strong year for them, but it’s likely that these popular policy positions helped Democrats quite a bit.

• Florida, red state: Republicans did extremely well in Florida, a development with long-term implications. One potential outcome: If the state is perceived to be solidly Republican, Democratic presidents including the current one might not feel as inclined to push for policies that benefit the state’s voters. 

• Tough comparisons: As I write this, Republicans haven’t yet clinched a House majority. They will probably get there, but only by a narrow margin. If that’s what happens, people will wind up having a bit more appreciation in the coming months for how Speaker Nancy Pelosi held together a tiny majority over the past two years. Make that: A lot more appreciation.

• Milestones: With many races still undecided, a couple of results stand out. Maryland Democrat Wes Moore becomes the first Black person elected governor in the state’s history and only the third Black governor elected in US history. Massachusetts Democrat Maura Healey is one of the country’s first LGBTQ women elected governor. Another LGBTQ candidate, Oregon Democrat Tina Kotek, is still in a close race. 

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

• The Policies  Republicans and Democrats Can Agree On: Karl Smith

• The Best Word for This Election Is … Normal: Matthew Yglesias

• The Surprising Decline in Election Misinformation: Parmy Olson 

(Corrects reference in the 10th paragraph to Maura Healey, who is one of the country’s first LGBTQ women elected governor.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. A former professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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