Democrats hold Senate majority in midterm elections stunner

Cortez Masto Town Hall
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks at a town hall meeting Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) John Locher/AP

Democrats hold Senate majority in midterm elections stunner

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Democrats withstood ferocious headwinds in the midterm elections to secure another two years of Senate control, a stinging defeat for Republicans that provides President Joe Biden a bulwark on Capitol Hill against an expected GOP majority in the House.

Senate Republicans entered Election Day with Biden deeply unpopular in contested states as voters expressed anxiety about inflation, crime, and the direction of the country overall. But golden opportunities to capture the 50-50 Senate fizzled, as Democratic incumbents held on in key battlegrounds and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) defeated Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) in Pennsylvania, flipping the seat relinquished by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).

“We are very optimistic we’re going to be able to hold our majority. I still believe that we can pick up seats as well,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on the eve of the election. Turns out, he was right.

The Republicans entered the 2022 election cycle needing to gain a single Senate seat to win a majority that Democrats enjoy courtesy of the tiebreaking vote wielded by Vice President Kamala Harris. Based on the map of seats up for election this year, Republican prospects were favorable. Democrats were on defense in a handful of swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire — while Republicans were on defense mostly in red states.

Republicans were optimistic, especially as Election Day approached. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, boldly predicted the GOP would gain a minimum of two seats on Nov. 8, and possibly four. But one by one, the party found myriad paths to the majority blocked.

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Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) fended off Don Bolduc (R) in New Hampshire, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) defeated Joe O’Dea (R) in Colorado, and Sen. Patty Murray (D) beat Tiffany Smiley (R) in Washington state. Once Fetterman delivered his party a one-seat cushion in Pennsylvania, the Republicans were left with just two options, both of which include needing to win a scheduled Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Herschel Walker (R).

Neither of those options panned out.

In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) narrowly survived a tough challenge from Republican Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general after all ballots were counted, a process that took days. In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) won a close race over Republican challenger Blake Masters. Now, the best Republicans can do by winning the Georgia runoff is avoid emerging from the midterm elections having lost a seat. Democrats could bump their ranks to 51.

So, how did the Democrats pull it off? Republican strategists and data crunchers were still sifting through the wreckage to come up with answers.

Nominating flawed candidates certainly contributed, many Republican insiders agree, pointing to Masters in Arizona, Walker in Georgia, Bolduc in New Hampshire, and Oz in Pennsylvania. Sen.-elect J.D. Vance (R-OH) also underperformed. Former President Donald Trump won two landslides in Ohio. But concern Vance might lose to Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) prompted Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to pour nearly $30 million into the race.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that eliminated federal protections for abortion rights is another factor that Republicans, in retrospect, believe cost their Senate candidates at the ballot box. “It was abortion,” said a GOP strategist who advised a losing Senate candidate. “At a time when energy costs are through the roof, social issues win the day. Remarkable.”

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Trump was the other anchor that helped sink Republican efforts to win the Senate, party insiders say.

To begin with, his endorsement was decisive in the GOP primaries that nominated Masters, Walker, Oz, and Vance. The former president endorsed Laxalt, but the Nevada Republican was the party’s consensus pick to take on Cortez Masto. He also backed Bolduc, but only down the stretch when polling suggested he might win. Meanwhile, Trump’s domination of the political environment, and never-ending fixation on 2020 and claims the last election was stolen, also boosted Democrats.

“Trump’s role in this election was picking bad nominees, sucking up way too much of donors’ money for himself, and hijacking August so he could keep folders in his basement for no good reason,” a veteran Republican operative said.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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