The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

6 takeaways from the 2022 election

As of Nov. 17, Democrats held enough Senate seats to retain their majority while Republicans claimed the House. Here’s why it took so long. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
10 min

The 2022 election is still very much in the balance — and won’t be decided for some time. But as the votes continue to be counted, below are some early takeaways.

(We’ll continue to update these as things progress.)

1. The ‘red wave’ is off

Republicans are still favorites to flip the House, and they’ve got a shot to take the Senate as well. But the big red wave that some on the right had predicted — and that GOP-aligned polls were increasingly indicating — did not materialize. And both takeovers are in some jeopardy.

That’s especially the case for the Senate. Democrats won the first big toss-up race early Wednesday, with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeating Republican Mehmet Oz. After other races went in the expected directions, that left three toss-ups to decide the majority — Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — with each side needing to win two of them.

Where midterm votes are still being counted

Republicans also lost the New Hampshire Senate race, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) was considered a slight favorite but in the campaign’s final stretch was seen as increasingly endangered. The GOP did hold on to open seats in Ohio and North Carolina, where J.D. Vance and Rep. Ted Budd won, respectively.

It also became clear as the night progressed that the House is less than a guarantee for the GOP. Democrats were winning most of the toss-up races, which is the opposite of what usually happens in a wave election. And for a time it appeared the GOP might not win the majority at all, though their taking the House is still the likeliest outcome.

The state legislative election results were good for Democrats — particularly in the Midwest. They won full control of Michigan for the first time since the early 1980s, were on the verge of gaining full control of the Minnesota by flipping the state Senate and averted a GOP supermajority in the Wisconsin legislature.

The U.S. Senate majority could come down, as it did in 2020, to a runoff election in Georgia. But Democrats could actually foreclose that possibility if they win both Arizona and Nevada, and they appears slight favorites for both.

Should Republicans fail to pick up one seat in the Senate (the gain they need to flip it), it would be just the seventh time the opposition party has failed to do so in a midterm over the past 100 years. And the average gain for the opposition party in House races over the past 100 years is 29 seats, which Republicans won’t match.

2. DeSantis’s landslide — and what it portends for 2024

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) won a second term on Nov. 8. (Video: The Washington Post)

In elections, it’s not just about which party wins, but which specific candidates win, and — in some cases — by how much. And one of the biggest winners Tuesday night was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), because he won … by a lot.

Let us count the ways:

  • He was beating Rep. Charlie Crist (D) by nearly 20 points with 93 percent of the votes counted — a larger margin than virtually any poll showed at any point in the race.
  • He became the first Republican to win Miami-Dade County since former governor Jeb Bush 20 years ago.
  • He won a clear majority of the Latino vote — 57 percent — lapping his 44 percent share in 2018 and Donald Trump’s 46 percent in 2020.

Indeed, DeSantis’s massive win in what was, until relatively recently, a swing state is perhaps the biggest signal to date that he will be a force to be reckoned with if he runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Trump clearly sees the threat building, having dubbed DeSantis “DeSanctimonious” at a rally this past weekend and then, on Tuesday, apparently threatening DeSantis with opposition research.

Those aren’t the actions of a former president who is particularly confident about what lies ahead. And Tuesday reinforced why he shouldn’t be.

It’s worth noting that Florida was a sweep for Republicans in general, up and down the ballot, in a way that probably retires any illusions about it being a swing state any more. And Sen. Marco Rubio’s 16-point lead is also astoundingly large. But DeSantis is the state party’s leader, and that means he gets credit for the drubbing that took place there.

And you can bet a lot of important Republicans are taking notice. What if they can get Trumpism but in much more electable packaging? That’s what DeSantis made the case for in his reelection race — in spades.

3. Trump’s bad night got worse

But that might not be the end of it for Trump. After his 2020 loss, he set about throwing his weight around in GOP primaries, in part to reinforce that he was still in charge. He wound up getting some flawed candidates through their primaries. As of now, each of the four Senate toss-up races feature Trump-backed candidates — and with the potential exception of Nevada’s Adam Laxalt, each of those candidates has had image problems.

If Republicans don’t take the Senate, there will be (or at least should be) a reckoning over how that happened. Oz’s loss is the biggest blow because he probably wouldn’t have won his close primary without Trump. Herschel Walker was simply not a good candidate, but Trump put him on a glide path to the nomination. And in Arizona, Blake Masters was also someone voters were reluctant to cast ballots for.

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman declared victory over his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz on Nov. 9. (Video: The Washington Post)

In each case, it’s abundantly clear that Republicans would’ve had a better shot if they had put forward a better — or even just a generic — candidate.

Swing states should tilt Republican in a GOP-leaning year, and it’s possible Republicans still might gain a seat. But it probably shouldn’t have been this close. And it seems quite possible — as it did after the Georgia runoffs in 2020 — that Trump might’ve cost his party a very winnable Senate majority.

Trump-backed candidates also were headed for defeat in some key House toss-up races that were prime pickup opportunities, including against Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and in North Carolina’s open 13th District.

The party gave Trump a pass after the 2020 Georgia runoffs, in part because nobody wants to run afoul of him and in part because Jan. 6 upended everything. But what happens if they truly think he jeopardized, or even cost them, a Senate majority — potentially for the second time?

4. The latest on abortion rights

It looks like several other states will follow Kansas’s lead from this summer, when it surprised the political world by overwhelmingly rejecting a ballot measure to set aside abortion protections in the state constitution.

Tracking results where abortion access hangs in the balance

On Tuesday, both California and Vermont added abortion rights to their constitutions by an overwhelming margin, as expected. A similar measure passed in Michigan, with the margin at 56 percent to 44 percent.

Perhaps most notably, though, a pair of red states — Kentucky and Montana — also turned aside antiabortion measures similar to the one in Kansas. The Kentucky measure, which failed, would have clarified that the state constitution contains no right to an abortion; the Montana measure, which trails, would require health-care providers to try to save any infant born alive, including after attempted abortions.

The election reinforced that ballot measures are largely where this battle will be fought moving forward, and that’s not good for the antiabortion crowd.

As for abortion’s impact on the election more broadly? The good news for Democrats on Tuesday was that lots of voters — nearly 3 in 10 — said abortion rights was their most important issue, which was nearly as large as the share of voters who named inflation, according to network exit polls.

Abortion ranking nearly as high on the list of priorities as the most significant economic issue (and the GOP’s top issue) would seem to have been a good thing for Democrats, since the economy almost always tops people’s list of concerns. But voters trusted the GOP more on every other issue tested: crime, gun policy and immigration.

5. How Democrats did it

So how did Democrats beat expectations on Tuesday?

Surely Roe v. Wade being overturned played a role, delivering the Democrats turnout fuel in an election in which it had been lacking — and an election whose fundamentals favored the opposition party. The effect of the court’s decision showed up almost immediately after it came down, with Democrats suddenly overperforming in every special election.

But this election wasn’t just about the relative strengths of the parties’ bases; it was also about independents. Exit polls currently show that independent voters favored Democrats 49 percent to 47 percent.

That’s not a big victory, but it is highly unusual for a midterm election. The opposition party has won independents by double digits in each of the last four midterm elections, but the GOP might lose them when all is said and done in this one. (Exit polls get readjusted as results roll in.) This was a choice election, even as midterms are usually a referendum on the party in power.

Also driving that home: Democrats actually won voters who disapproved of President Biden “somewhat,” 49 percent to 45 percent.

6. Voters shun election-denier secretary of state candidates

Many election-deniers won elections Tuesday, according to The Washington Post’s tracker of these candidates.

But the most hard-line election deniers vying to oversee elections? Voters were apparently more reluctant to put them into positions of power. And it’s looking as if they could suffer a clean sweep.

The America First Secretary of State Coalition is a group featuring a half-dozen candidates who have gone the furthest in rejecting the 2020 election results. And there was pronounced fear that, if they won, they could use positions of power to actually thwart democratic elections.

But in virtually every state they were on the ballot, their margins ran behind the other Republicans on the ticket. It happened with New Mexico’s Audrey Trujillo and Michigan’s Kristina Karamo, who both lost. It also happened with defeated Pennsylvania governor candidate Doug Mastriano (who was in the coalition because he would get to appoint the secretary of state). In Arizona and Nevada, the races remain uncalled, but Mark Finchem and coalition leader Jim Marchant, respectively, trailed almost all of their ticket-mates.

It also happened to Minnesota’s Kim Crockett — who has denied the results of the 2020 election but is not a member of the coalition. She was handily defeated Tuesday.

The only victor in the coalition so far? Indiana’s Diego Morales. But that’s not a swing state.