Midterm Elections: What’s Going On?
In the wake of the Midterm Election results, it’s hard to make sense of the outcomes. With a Democratic win in the Senate, it is clear that Republicans underperformed in the House of Representatives, a fairly shocking loss for the party, which has led to Republicans blaming various subsections of their party. For example, some Republicans blame former President Trump because many Trump-backed candidates lost their races, such as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
However, there is no denying that Republicans over-performed in traditional red strong-hold states like Florida and Texas. Democratic candidate for Texas Governor, Beto O’Rourke, faced the considerable challenge of defeating an incumbent Republican in Texas - Greg Abbott. Yet, the contentious election between the two led to many important cultural conversations: the Uvalde mass shooting especially influenced Texans to favor Beto’s policy on gun control, which called for the repeal of permitless carry.
Overall though, Republican values of economic growth coupled with low taxation and border security proved to be more salient issues to voters, which led to Abbott's re-election. In Texas, it is especially hard to increase voter turnout in Midterm elections because voters are driven by national events and not state politics. Another effect that led to reduced voter turnout is the new state voter law, Senate Bill 1. Senate Bill 1 restricted voting by mail while also boosting protections for partisan poll watchers.
In an article by Stanford News, some scholars articulated that the midterms “felt almost like a return to normalcy” because vocal 2020 election deniers lost, extremist platforms failed to resonate, and polling fell reasonably within margins of error. Interestingly enough, Trump’s unpopularity hurt Republicans in the Midterms. For candidates endorsed by Trump, it is hard to separate whether they lost their elections due to the negative effect of being associated with Trump or because of their low quality as candidates.
For example, Georgian Herschel Walker is a first-time yet Trump-backed US Senate candidate who will now advance to a runoff in December against incumbent Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Walker has been referred to as “an allegory of Trump-era Republicanism,” and many doubted his leadership capabilities, claiming that his “celebrity substituted for experience.” In addition, many took his run as an example of the fact that overall, Republicans ran very “low-quality candidates with little political experience.” Despite these qualms, the fact that Walker was headed into a runoff election proves there may still be some appeal to Trumpism and celebrity for Americans at the ballot box. In Georgia’s runoff election, Democratic candidates gained control of the US Senate by securing Senator Raphael Warnock’s reelection. Warnock commented after the campaign, “the people have spoken.” Though Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes, he still fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Yet, in the runoff election, there was a wider margin leaning towards Warnock as Walker seemed unable to overcome the claims that he paid for two abortions despite a strong pro-life campaign.
In Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz (R-PA) faced John Fetterman (D-PA) in the battle for the Senate. Governor John Fetterman defeated Mehmet Oz on Tuesday, which flipped a seat that had previously been Republican. The campaign process for the two candidates proved difficult, especially for Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, resulting in altered speech once returning to the campaign trail. Fetterman said he was “fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down.” In Oz’s campaign, he promised balance while facing numerous criticisms, especially after mocking Fetterman’s health post-stroke. On Election Day, surveys showed the race was close between the two candidates and left Democrats in a shock after Fetterman’s initial lead in the polls. Dr. Oz depended on Trump-centric voters during the debate despite his “lateness to conservative positions.” The Pennsylvania Senate Election brought national names forward, such as former President Barack Obama. On the Saturday before Election Day, Obama appealed to those at Fetterman’s rally, making a jab at Oz’s history with sketchy health advice on his show.
Arizona also had a tumultuous Midterm election period.
Mark Kelly (D-AZ) managed to maintain his Senate seat after winning the Midterms against Trump-backed Blake Masters. A further loss to former President Trump, Masters proved to be another of many endorsed candidates that had “an underwhelming showing during the midterm elections.” Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords, was initially elected in 2020 to finish Senator John McCain’s term, which gave Democrats complete control of Arizona’s Senate seats.
All in all, there were many historic wins in these Midterm elections. Democrats Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Tina Kotek of Oregon will be the nation’s first openly lesbian governors. In addition, Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL) became the first member of Congress from Generation Z, the demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012. Alabama also made history with Katie Britt (R-AL) being the state's first woman elected to the Senate. And in Maryland, voters replaced the popular outgoing Republican governor Larry Hogan with Democrat Wes Moore, who will be Maryland’s first Black governor.
Overall, candidates mattered. Personal scandals, political inexperience, and lack of charisma affected voters' feelings about candidates. Trump-backed candidates didn’t immediately earn votes from Republican supporters. Therefore, many Republicans blame former president Trump for the party’s underperformance in the Midterms and subsequent Democratic victories in key races across the country. These Democratic gains prevented an expected Republican “red wave” and proved that voters, for the most part, in a post-insurrectionist environment, reject far-right extremists and the belief that the 2020 election was stolen.