Washington The first polling stations were just closed when Joe Biden started his telephone marathon. The US President called one election winner after another: Virginia, Colorado, Massachusetts in the first swing. Rhode Island, Illinois, Pennsylvania in the second and so on across the map of the USA.
Biden had many candidates to congratulate because his party was able to defend key constituencies and states in the important congressional elections. Normally, the party of the incumbent president is punished in the midterm elections.
But now it looks as if the Democrats can contain the damage – and, to the displeasure of the Republicans, bring in many respectable successes.
“This is definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for sure,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC. With many races still to be counted, control of the House of Representatives and Senate is open – and it may be some time before the full picture emerges.
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But it’s already clear that the election isn’t going the way Republicans expected. “Election night shows much closer results than expected for Republicans,” political strategist Matt Dole told Handelsblatt. “The party had dreamed of massive success. Now she can be lucky if she wins a chamber in Congress.”
What do the first results mean? Three takeaways from election night:
1. Inflation weighs on sentiment – but only moderately hurts Democrats
The midterms are the most important votes between two presidential elections. Thousands of important positions in the states are filled, as well as mandates in the Senate and House of Representatives, the two chambers of the US Congress.
So far, the Democrats control the House of Representatives by a small margin. The Senate is divided exactly fifty-fifty, thanks to the extra vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, the Democrats can pass laws there. The Democrats will probably lose at least the House of Representatives, but the losses should be limited according to the first results.
The election night in the USA actually started with a “wow effect” for the Republicans: they cemented the status of Florida, which has 22 million inhabitants, as a deep red stronghold.
But at the same time the political map turned bluer and bluer. In the strategically important state of Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman won the Senate seat. He narrowly defeated the television doctor Mehmet Oz, who was supported by Donald Trump – which is spectacular given an emotional election campaign.
Fettermann suffered a stroke during the election campaign and his speech has been restricted ever since. Biden and the Democrats had poured massive effort and millions into the race — and it paid off.
With Pennsylvania, the Democrats now have a much better chance of maintaining – or even expanding – their slim majority in the Senate. Joe Biden would then be the first Democratic president since John F. Kennedy to win Senate seats in midterm elections.
However, the Senate election has not yet been decided. In Georgia, for example, which is central to a majority of the House of Congress, it could go to a runoff in December. “Democrats have a real shot at holding the Senate and cutting their House losses,” tweeted former presidential candidate Joe Walsh. “Compared to his predecessors, Biden seems to be having a hell of a successful first half for an incumbent president.”
Midterms – US midterm elections – What is it about?
House of Representatives
In the midterm elections on November 8, the Americans will re-elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives. The term of office of members of parliament is generally limited to two years. So far, the Democrats have 222 seats there, the Republicans 213. Together with the Senate, the House of Representatives forms the Congress.
In the Senate, Americans will only re-elect a third of the 100 seats in the midterms – a total of 35. Of the seats now up for election, 14 have been occupied by Democrats and 21 by Republicans. Currently, Republicans have 50 votes in the Senate, Democrats have 48, and Independents have two. Together with the independents and the vote of the vice president, the Democrats still have the majority.
governorships in the states
In 36 of the 50 states, the governorship will be re-elected on November 8th, i.e. the heads of state and government of the individual states. So far, 20 of the states with gubernatorial elections have been led by Republicans and 16 by Democrats.
Some of the most hotly contested states that could shift the balance of power in Washington include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Given Biden’s poor approval ratings and record inflation, pollsters were mostly certain that the Democrats would have to take significant losses. According to the broadcaster NBC, however, issues such as abortion rights played almost as big a role as the US economy.
And the poor performance of many Trump candidates suggests that while overly radical candidates may succeed in primaries, the bar to actually being elected to office is too high for them.
2. Donald Trump may have overestimated himself
At least Donald Trump’s support, according to a lesson from the Midterms, is no guarantee of victory. Trump had supported almost 300 candidates from his estate in Mar-a-Lago. His rallies were packed, and Trump is still the Republicans’ biggest fundraiser.
But since his lost presidential election in 2020, doubts have repeatedly arisen in the party: is he capable of winning a majority? Can the fanaticism of his fans be converted into votes?
“Republicans need to carefully consider their future path, including leadership,” says political strategist Dolan. According to NBC, the proportion of Republican supporters who identify with Trump is falling. And as the Huffington Post reported, Republican hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin would not donate to a presidential candidate like Trump again.
Trump has repeatedly indicated that he wants to run for the White House again in 2024. On November 15, he wants to make “a big announcement” at his golf club in Florida, as he announced on Monday. The Americans also implicitly voted on Trump on Tuesday.
Strategists from both parties agreed on Wednesday night that things were going worse for Trump than he would have liked: In New Hampshire, for example, Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan won against Trump-backed challenger Don Bolduc. And Blake Masters, a Trumpist promoted by German investor Peter Thiel, is also likely to be left behind in the Senate race in Arizona.
“The big takeaway of the night is that Trump-backed candidates are struggling in races that should have been easy to win,” said Dan Eberhart, CEO of Denver-based oil services company Canary, who has been a donor to the Republican party for years.
Biden’s former government spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, acknowledged that while Democrats had a problem in Florida, where Republicans won overwhelmingly. “But Republicans have a problem with Trump, and it’s much harder to solve,” she said.
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Things went according to plan for Trump in Ohio, among other places, where Trump’s candidate JD Vance prevailed against Democratic Senator Tim Ryan. Vance had also become known in Germany a few years ago with his bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy”.
Many MPs are also moving into the House of Representatives who are loyal to Trump and, among other things, downplay the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 as a “demo”. Right-wing candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, true “Maga Republicans”, easily defended their seats.
In Colorado, on the other hand, Trump’s candidate Lauren Boebert is having a surprisingly difficult time regaining her seat in the House of Representatives – all in all, Trump’s range of candidates is putting in a mixed performance.
Especially since one of Donald Trump’s internal rivals, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, was able to celebrate a real triumph in Florida. He won his re-election by a double-digit margin. DeSantis is considered a promising candidate for the 2024 presidential election – and a conservative firewall. Florida is the state “where wokism will die,” he exclaimed in his winning speech.
3. The US remains unpredictable
The midterms are complicated by the fact that the counts could take days or even weeks. If the state of Georgia actually has a runoff, the exact distribution in the Senate will not be known until December 6th.
The House of Representatives, which is still considered likely, could go to the Republicans. “It’s clear we’re going to take back the House of Representatives,” Republican Kevin McCarthy cried on election night. McCarthy wants to succeed Nancy Pelosi, who currently leads the Democratic majority in the chamber.
But the Republicans had opted for a comfortable double-digit majority. That is now anything but certain, it may only be a few seats ahead.
Republicans could become the big unpredictable in the chamber should their factions of radical “Maga Republicans” and more moderate MPs block each other, with little room for dissent.
Either way, Joe Biden gets uncomfortable when the opposition dominates one or both chambers of Congress. The Republicans are threatening impeachment because of the chaotic Afghan withdrawal or the refugee crisis on the border with Mexico. They can also hustle Biden with investigations into his government and family. The midterm elections could also leave their mark on foreign policy: the Republicans threatened to stop aid to Ukraine during the election campaign.
Irrespective of the outcome of the election, the mood in the USA is tense, and the Republican Party threatened to sue the result on election night. “Bloodbath!!!!” tweeted Donald Trump’s son Don Jr.
What fueled potential aggression were isolated glitches at polling stations: in the populous constituency of Maricopa County in Arizona, one in four ballot machines was affected by malfunctions on Tuesday. Ironically, this constituency was already at the center of Republican efforts in 2020 to declare the presidential elections invalid.
Allegations of alleged voter fraud are going viral in right-wing conservative circles. “Now it’s starting again?” Trump raged on his social network Truth Social. “People will not tolerate this!!!”
Independent election observers from the OECD are in the USA. One lesson of the Midterms is that distrust in the democratic process is now deeply entrenched.