Midterm Mania: Mix of Democratic, Republican success across U.S.

Kailey Love | Managing Editor

11/08/18

A “Blue Wave” in the House. GOP gains in the Senate. Over 100 women elected across all national positions. The first openly gay governor ever elected in the U.S.

Welcome to the 2018 midterm elections.

The long anticipated general election saw record numbers of voter turnout nationwide, up significantly from the 2014 midterm election cycle. According to the U.S. Election Project, the forecast for turnout was the highest since 1970 based on early voting at an estimated 47 percent. While the early predictions from pollsters held true — that the Democrats would take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Republicans would overtake Senate seats in states that Trump won in 2016 — there were still surprises and upsets to be had across the country.

Keeping up with the results of every race nationwide on election night and digging through news coverage the morning after can be overwhelming, so here is an in-depth snapshot of the results.

Dems Flip the House

Setting their sights on the House early on in the election cycle, the Democrats needed to flip 23 seats on Nov. 6 to gain back the majority. By the day before the election, the Cook Political Report rated 30 races as “toss-ups,” providing a wide margin in which the left would only need to take seven of these contested matches in order to make it to the 218 seats needed for control.

As it stands at time of print, Democrats won 10 seats in the toss-up races and are projected to win six more. They also won in two unexpected races where the Republican candidate was favored in the polls in New York District 11 and South Carolina District 1, and claimed victory in all races where the Democrat was projected to win easily or narrowly.

At the time of print, Democrats now hold 223 out of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, with 15 races (mainly in West Coast states such as California and Washington due to large numbers of mail-in ballots) still outstanding, according to the New York Times. All together, Democrats flipped 28 seats total, subject to change. Across the board, the incoming Congress will be younger and more diverse, with historic wins for minority candidates and women nationwide.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Minority Leader, is expected to take back the gavel come January. Pelosi has been a member of the Congressional leadership since 2002, when she was Minority Whip, and was the first female Speaker of the House, elected in 2007. Though there have been outcries for a change in leadership, it appears that Pelosi will re-assume her role as Speaker without any major opposition.

GOP Expands their Majority in the Senate

While the Democrats celebrated victory in the House, they faced several significant losses in the Senate. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) all lost their seats to Republican challengers. This did not come as a surprise to most pollsters — North Dakota was rated as Republican leaning at the outset by FiveThirtyEight, while Missouri was rated a toss up – as the Democrats tried to defend seats in deep red states. If it weren’t for Democrat Jacky Rosen unseating Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada, Republicans would have flipped three seats. Other endangered Democrats in states that Trump declared 2016 victory Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) were able to hold onto their seats.

At the time of print, two races still remain too close to call — Florida and Arizona.

In Florida, defending Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson has already called for a recount, stating that his Republican opponent, current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, prematurely declared his victory. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Gov. Scott holds a 50.2 percent lead. Various national outlets, including the New York Times and CNN, have not yet called the race, and the initial vote count will not be finalized until Saturday. In Florida, an automatic recount is triggered when the candidates are separated by .5 percent, not by candidate requests. However, according to a CNN projection, Scott’s lead was within that margin as Nelson sits not far behind in the polls at 49.8 percent.

The campaign for retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona is also currently inconclusive, as Republican candidate Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema are locked in a close race of 49.3 percent to 48.4 percent, respectively. Also with 99 precincts reporting, both ABC and NBC report that the race may not be called until early next week due to early voting ballots that still need to be counted. Regardless of how this race ends up, Arizona will still send its first female senator to Washington, D.C., come January.

The race that the nation had its eyes on all night, however, was the plight of Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and his attempt to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. A former candidate for president of the U.S., Cruz has held his seat since 2013, and the idea of a viable challenge from the left to a Republican in Texas was initially viewed as laughable. After all, the last Democratic Senator from Texas was Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. O’Rourke, however, gave Cruz a literal run for his money with his maverick campaign.

Since he announced his candidacy in March 2017, O’Rourke visited all 254 counties in Texas, and also raised a whopping $70 million, a number that set Senate fundraising records. Running on an ambitiously progressive platform in a generally red state, O’Rourke captured the attention of not only Texans, but the whole nation. Several celebrities – including Beyonce, a Texas native – publicly endorsed O’Rourke, as did eight of the major Texas news outlets.

Despite the widespread support for this political underdog, come election day Cruz still managed to narrowly defeat his challenging opponent with 50.9 percent of the vote. However, many believe that this won’t be the last of O’Rourke. On social media, political commentators and spectators alike are already predicting a 2020 O’Rourke bid for the presidency.

Dem Gubernatorial Gains

With only 14 governors not up for re-election (seven on each side of the aisle), a large portion of the country was up for grabs in the gubernatorial races. The Democrats flipped a total of seven governorships in Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Maine, while Republicans regained Alaska.

Campaigns in Florida and Georgia garnered a great deal of national attention as historic firsts were at stake. Democrats Andrew Gillum (Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida) and Stacey Abrams (former Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives) were vying to be the first black governor of Florida and first black female governor of Georgia, respectively.

Gillum, campaigning as a progressive Democrat in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), was favored in pre-election day polls, with Quinnipiac projecting that Gillum would have a seven point lead over his Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Rob DeSantis. However, the final polling results gave DeSantis a narrow win (49.7 percent over Gillum’s 49.1 percent, falling outside Florida’s automatic recount trigger margin) and Gillum conceded later that night.

In Georgia, on the other hand, Abrams has announced that she is refusing to concede to her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Controversy swirled around this race during the lead-up to election day, as Kemp was accused of attempting to suppress the votes of thousands of Georgians in his secretary of state position.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that Kemp’s office was holding up 53,000 voter registration applications for review, 70 percent of which came from African Americans. The Brennan Center for Justice reported since Kemp took office, the state of Georgia “purged twice as many voters – 1.5 million – between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2016.”

The race in Georgia has yet to be called for either candidate at the time of print, though Kemp holds a 50.3 percent lead.

A Flurry of Firsts
• Youngest Women Elected to Congress — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Abby Finkenaur (D-Iowa) at age 29
• First Muslim Women Elected to Congress — Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)
• First Native American Women Elected to Congress — Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.)
• First Openly Gay Governor —Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
• First Black Women from Massachusetts and Connecticut Elected to Congress — Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.)
• First Female Senator from Tennessee — Marsha Blackburn (R)
• First Female Governors from Maine and South Dakota — Janet Mills (D-Maine) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)
• First Women Elected to Congress from Iowa — Cindy Axe (D) and Abby Finkenauer (D)
• First Latina Women Elected to Congress from Texas — Veronica Escobar (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D).

Year of the Women, Round 2?

Following the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee Testimony of Anita Hill, a young woman who had come forward with accusations against then-nominee for Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, the 1992 general election produced a historic win for women. Inspired by the lack of women in the Senate (specifically, the lack of women on the Senate Judiciary Committee), four women successfully won Senate seats, expanding the number in the chamber from two to six and setting a new record. These unprecedented victories lead to the dubbing of 1992 as “The Year of the Woman.”

And, as the age-old saying goes, history is destined to repeat itself.

Following the controversial hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – in which an almost identical situation to the Thomas hearings played out when Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist from California, came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh – a record number of women claimed victories in elections at every level of government.

As it stood prior to Kavanaugh’s nomination, a historic number of women (227 running in congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial races) were already running for office. As it currently stands, 118 of them have won their race. As of the morning after election day, CNN has projected that 96 women won House races (31 new members and 65 incumbents), breaking the previous record of 85 according to the Congressional Research Service. 13 women were elected to Senate seats, bringing the total of women in the Senate to 23.

Trump’s Response

Following the loss of his party’s majority in the House, President Trump held the longest press conference of his presidency thus far on the morning of Nov. 7 to address the election results. Trump began talking about bipartisanship, even endorsing Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, but the conference spiraled from there. The president sparred with reporters – including one especially heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, which later resulted in Acosta’s White House press credentials being revoked – and also pointed out the losses of Republican candidates that did not embrace his support or policy positions, stating that “we saw the candidates I supported achieve tremendous success last night … we picked up a lot.”

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