Democrats showed strength in key battleground races Tuesday, potentially defying Republican hopes of sweeping victories in the midterm elections and leaving control of Congress hanging in the balance the morning after millions of Americans went to the polls.
Polarizing candidates complicated the GOP’s framing of the midterms as a simple referendum on the party in power. Unlike past midterms, which brought massive swings in political power to Washington, this year’s elections might be headed toward a modest shift.
The evenly divided Senate remained up for grabs as both parties held on to competitive states. Democrats flipped a crucial seat in Pennsylvania, narrowing Republicans’ path to retaking the majority, while they kept New Hampshire and Colorado. Republicans held on to Ohio and North Carolina. Races in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona, where Republicans were hoping to flip seats, were not settled as of Wednesday morning.
While many key races across the country remained unsettled, the GOP notched key House wins in Florida, where they benefited from retirements and redistricting. And they picked up a battleground district in Virginia held by Rep. Elaine Luria (D).
But elsewhere in Virginia, Democrats retained a hotly contested seat held by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, and Rep. Jennifer Wexton prevailed in a district where Republicans hoped to march deep into blue territory. Democrats also picked up House seats in North Carolina and South Texas and prevented flips in several races that had worried the party.
Strategists in both parties said they expected Republicans to reclaim the House once all votes are counted, but talk of a massive GOP sweep had all but evaporated. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) emerged just after 2 a.m. for a short speech rather than a major victory party. He projected confidence and told supporters and reporters that “when you wake up tomorrow,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “will be in the minority.”
Pelosi had a different message. “While many races remain too close to call, it is clear that House Democratic Members and candidates are strongly outperforming expectations across the country,” she said in a statement.
The battle for the Senate, fought largely on Democratic terrain, might not be settled for days — or weeks, with the possibility of a December runoff in Georgia.
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A Republican takeover in even one chamber of Congress would complicate President Biden’s agenda for the next two years. House Republicans have signaled their intent to launch investigations into issues including the U.S. coronavirus response and the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter Biden. If handed the reins of power in the Senate, the GOP could make confirming Biden’s Cabinet officials and judges more difficult and wield more leverage in potential showdowns over spending.
But a relatively small majority in the House could limit GOP ambitions.
As voters decided whether to break Democrats’ grip on power in Washington, several vulnerable Democratic governors — in blue-leaning states and purple terrain — won their races, while Republicans lost control in Massachusetts and Maryland but beat back challengers in Georgia and Texas as expected. In Maryland, former nonprofit chief Wes Moore, a Democrat, defeated Trump-endorsed Republican Dan Cox to become the first Black person to be elected governor in the state.
Republicans clinched statewide victories in Florida, notching early if expected wins in the Senate and governor races. Elsewhere, the future of abortion laws was on the ballot in some states, including in Michigan, where a measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution was projected to be approved.
All told, Republicans spent $359 million on broadcast advertising aimed at framing the contest as a referendum on Democratic policies on crime and inflation, while Democrats pushed back with $422 million in ads largely focused on Republican efforts to ban access to abortion and more broadly on what they cast as GOP extremism, according to AdImpact, which tracks television and digital political ads.
The starkly contrasting visions for the country were evident in interviews with voters from the East Coast to the Southwest. In Northern Virginia, a traditionally Democratic area, Niaz Ali, 29, walked out of an elementary school after casting his ballot and stopped to take a selfie. He wanted to record the day when he switched parties, from Democrat to Republican.
Ali, who is from Pakistan, said he has long supported Democrats but has lately been frustrated by inflation and illegal immigration. “They [messed up] everything,” he said of Democrats. “We need Trump back.” Ali voted for the Republican running against Spanberger, Yesli Vega, even though he said he didn’t know anything about her.
About a third of voters said inflation was the biggest issue affecting their vote, according to early network exit polls. That was more than other issues such as crime, gun policy and immigration and just a bit higher than abortion. About three-quarters of voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction, according to a preliminary voter poll.
In Phoenix, Matt Kroski said he was voting against candidates on the right more than anything else, voicing worries about GOP efforts to chip away at abortion rights and erode democratic guardrails. Kroski, 43, usually votes early, but after seeing reports of armed observers at ballot dropboxes, he cast his ballot in person on Election Day.
“It’s just voter intimidation,” he said. “Emotionally, it made me fearful because it’s our one chance to make our voice heard.”
Two years after Donald Trump and his allies pushed falsehoods about the 2020 election, spurring a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol and halt the democratic process of affirming the outcome, a majority of GOP nominees for Senate, House and key statewide offices had denied or questioned Biden’s 2020 victory, and Tuesday’s results could give many of them power over the 2024 elections in battleground states.
Heading into Tuesday, historical precedent suggested Democrats were in for a tough night. Presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent, such as Biden, have seen their party lose an average of 37 House seats in midterm years, according to Gallup. For presidents above 50 percent, the losses tend to be far lighter — 14 seats on average.
While some House races could take days to clarify, Democrats quickly found reasons for hope.
In Virginia, Luria (D), a former Navy commander, lost in a district that narrowly favored Biden in 2020 but swung dramatically toward GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) last year. A prominent member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Luria fell to Republican Jen Kiggans, a state lawmaker who also served in the Navy.
But Spanberger, a former CIA officer, defeated Vega, a county supervisor, in a district that Biden carried by seven points. And Wexton, a former prosecutor, beat Republican and retired Navy captain Hung Cao in an area where Biden trounced Trump by 18 points.
House Democrats also dashed Republicans’ hopes of flipping a deep-blue Rhode Island district, as Allan Fung (R), the former mayor of Cranston, lost to Seth Magaziner (D).
In South Texas, moderate Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar won a tough race, while Democrat Vicente Gonzalez beat Republican Rep. Mayra Flores. Flores’s special election victory earlier this year was hailed as a sign of the GOP’s growing diversity and inroads with Latino voters, but she faced Gonzalez in a significantly bluer district.
Other Democrats prevailed in purple or red-leaning territory. Rep. Sharice Davids (D) survived a toss-up race in Kansas, while Rep. Angie Craig (D) pulled through in a narrowly divided district in Minnesota. In Ohio, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) held on to a district Trump won by three points in 2020, aided by a right-wing GOP opponent, J.R. Majewski. The National Republican Campaign Committee pulled ads for Majewski after the Associated Press reported he had misrepresented his military service.
At the same time, Democrats lost control of two Florida House seats held by members who declined to seek reelection: Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) and Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for governor. Rep. Al Lawson (D) also lost in a newly drawn district that made for a tougher reelection.
Democrats entered the day staring down several possible losses in New York, typically a stronghold for the party — including the House seat of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A Maloney loss to Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler — in a redistricted seat that Biden would have carried by 10 points in 2020 — would make him the first sitting DCCC chair to lose his seat since 1992.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) were on the ballot Tuesday after campaigns that highlighted their national ambitions. DeSantis, whose simmering rivalry with Trump has become increasingly public, won a decisive victory Tuesday over Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat former governor and congressman, in a state where Democrats have grown increasingly gloomy about their ability to compete.
DeSantis’s administration blocked the Department of Justice on Tuesday from accessing polling places in South Florida, calling federal involvement “counterproductive” and saying it would send its own monitors. Other battles over the voting process played out across the country, with election officials urging patience with results and seeking to preempt baseless suggestions of malfeasance.
Some Republicans had long feared their Senate candidates — many were inexperienced and propelled to victory in their primaries by Trump — would dash their chances of taking back the chamber in a favorable year.
In Ohio, J.D. Vance, a critic turned champion of Trump, defeated an unexpectedly competitive challenge from Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, where Trump won by eight points in 2020.
In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) defeated Democrat Val Demings, a House member and former police chief.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) was in close contention with GOP nominee Herschel Walker early Wednesday with most of the vote counted and neither reaching the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff.
Walker has remained competitive despite mounting personal scandals, including accusations of domestic violence and claims by two former girlfriends that he pressured them to have abortions, despite supporting strict bans on the procedure while campaigning. Walker has denied the abortion claims.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor, in a tight race for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R).
Democrats grew more nervous about the pivotal race this fall amid a surge of GOP attack ads on crime and mounting attention on the health of Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary this spring and struggled with his words during an October debate.
In a victory speech, Fetterman told an overjoyed crowd that he “never expected” to turn so many red counties blue.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) of Nevada, the first Latina elected to the Senate, was in competition with Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general and Trump campaign official who played a prominent role in the former president’s false claims of widespread election fraud.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D) was in competition with Republican Blake Masters, a venture capitalist boosted by his mentor Peter Thiel, the conservative tech billionaire. In New Hampshire, which Biden won by about seven points, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) fended off GOP nominee Don Bolduc, an Army veteran whom Republican leaders worked to defeat in the primary because they viewed him as less electable.
In Colorado, Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D) prevailed over Republican Joe O’Dea, who has criticized Trump and positioned himself as a moderate, and long-serving Sen. Patty Murray (D) won reelection in Washington state. That allayed some Democratic fears that strong GOP candidates could ride a red wave to upset victories.
Across the country, in North Carolina, a purple state where Democrats have repeatedly fallen short, Rep. Ted Budd (R) triumphed in an open Senate race with Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. Democrat Wiley Nickel won a tight race to fill Budd’s seat in the House.
Several states also put abortion rights to a direct vote. In Michigan, voters approved a constitutional right to abortion in a ballot referendum that was a major win for abortion rights supporters. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who frequently mentioned abortion, won a tight race against Republican Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator.
Nearly half of voters in Michigan said abortion was the most important issue, followed by about 3 in 10 who cited inflation, early exit polling showed. Nationwide, voters who named abortion as their top issue supported Democratic candidates by about a 3-to-1 margin.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers (D) defeated a challenge from Republican Tim Michels in an exceedingly tight race. Wisconsin is another state where an old abortion ban — this one dating to 1849 — thrust the issue into the spotlight.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) won the governor’s race in his swing state, beating Doug Mastriano, who exemplified how far-right candidates made key races less competitive this year for the GOP.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) defeated Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who surged in the final weeks while hammering Hochul on crime he blamed on liberal policies and leadership. His efforts forced Democrats to scramble to Hochul’s defense in a liberal stronghold.
Gov. Janet Mills (D) won reelection in Maine, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) also held on in blue-leaning New Mexico. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) was in a close race with Republican nominee Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s biggest county.
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, conceded to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has retained solid conservative support despite clashing with Trump. Kemp beat Abrams by little more than 1 point in 2018.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) also beat back a challenge from another Democratic star of the 2018 midterms, former congressman Beto O’Rourke. Four years ago, O’Rourke came within a few points of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in the red-leaning state.
In key states around the country, GOP candidates who have denied the 2020 election results were in contention to oversee the voting process. Strategists from both parties agreed that a strong evening nationally for Republicans could lift even these extreme candidates to victory, alarming those who fear a repeat of GOP officials’ baseless efforts in 2020 to overturn election results.
Arizona state legislator Mark Finchem (R), who has pushed to decertify the 2020 results and ban voting machines, was running against Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the 2020 election in Arizona’s biggest battleground, Maricopa County. In Nevada, election denier Jim Marchant, a former Republican state assembly member, faced Democrat Cisco Aguilar.
Reis Thebault in Arizona, Rebecca Kiger in Ohio, Dylan Wells in Nevada, Antonio Olivo in Virginia, Tim Craig in Florida, and Perry Stein, Derek Hawkins, Emily Guskin, Scott Clement, Mariana Alfaro, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Azi Paybarah, Marianna Sotomayor and Nick Mourtoupalas in Washington contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the state in which Gov. Janet Mills won reelection Tuesday. She won in the state of Maine. This version has been updated.
The 2022 Midterm Elections
Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.