Call it “the red wave that wasn’t” — Democrats have staved off a Republican takeover of Congress, at least for now, winning a number of key electoral contests and defying many analysts’ predictions.
Partisan control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the 118th Congressional term, set to begin on January 3, 2023, is unknown as of Wednesday morning. And while all indicators previously suggested that Democrats were set to lose at least the House, election callers have said that their loss is no longer a sure thing.
“The ‘red wave’ did not materialize, and election night ended with many close races that will be decided by mail-in ballots,” The New York Times reported. “We expect the remaining vote that will decide control of Congress will take days, if not weeks, to count.”
Republicans remain favored to win the House after all the votes are counted. But they are expected to have a very narrow majority, not the commanding lead they had hoped for.
Republicans have flipped just six Democratic-held seats so far — one more than was needed to take control of the House — but unresolved contests elsewhere mean that it’s impossible to know the final outcome at this point. Although it’s unlikely, there’s still a minute chance that Democrats could flip another seat and hold off additional gains by the GOP.
Sixty-four seats remain too close to call, according to Politico. Republicans need just 19 more seats to win the House, while Democrats need 46 wins.
Meanwhile, Democrats fared better than expected in several key Senate contests. In Pennsylvania, for example, Democrat John Fetterman won a narrow victory against TV personality and Trump-backed Republican candidate Mehmet Oz.
Senate races in several states remained too close to call — including in Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. In Georgia’s case, it seems inevitable that there will be a runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) in early December. It’s possible that that contest will be the determining factor in which party will control the upper house of Congress.
As of 4:00 am Eastern Time, The New York Times’s political “Needle” — a visual representation of where things stand in both Houses of Congress — projected that it was highly likely that control of Congress would be split. According to that measurement, there was a 66 percent chance that Democrats would retain control of the Senate, and an 83 percent chance that Republicans would win the House.
Some Republicans have acknowledged that the party underperformed across the country, despite securing a few wins.
“Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said to NBC News.
Analysts noted that Republicans’ loyalty to former President Donald Trump may be to blame for the party faring poorly.
“It was not supposed to be this close,” wrote Guardian columnist Moira Donegan. “Midterms are always hard for the party in power. … But Republican margins are narrow, and even when the party had the wind at their back, Trump-backed, election-denying candidates did poorly; so did those who most vocally oppose abortion rights.”
“The Republican Party is in disarray,” Donegan added, “unable to quit Trump, but unable to thrive while anchored to him. If they do end up winning a majority, they will do so weakened and vulnerable.”
Some party members appeared to agree with that assessment. “[A] GOP source tells me ‘if it wasn’t clear before it should be now. We have a Trump problem,'” tweeted Fox News’s White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich.
Other analysts praised Democratic leaders for keeping the GOP at bay.
“For a guy who has been a Senator, Vice President and President, you’ve got to admit, @JoeBiden is probably the most consistently, repeatedly and unfairly underestimated political leader of our time,” political analyst David Rothkopf wrote.
Progressives played a huge role in deterring Republican victories, some analysts noted.
“The entire Bernie Sanders-aligned wing of the Democratic Party won tonight, from Fetterman in the Senate to the new Squad members in the House,” Hanna Trudo, senior political correspondent for The Hill, wrote in a series of tweets. “The progressive wing of the party quite literally flipped its most consequential swing state. Hard to see how this doesn’t change Dems’ ‘electability’ calculus moving forward.”