One way to look at this election is as a repudiation of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Democrats held 235 seats in the House in 2018 as Biden launched his campaign for president. To the surprise of prognosticators, they won just a bare majority, 222, on the day he was elected in 2020. As this is written, it looks like they will win about 211 this year.
That’s more than most forecasts, but the trend is not in Biden’s direction. At best, it’s slow leakage of the Democratic coalition.
Enough Senate races are up in the air, as I write, to be certain, but Republicans have lost a seat in Pennsylvania, lead in a seat in Nevada, and have a chance at a 51st seat in a Georgia runoff on Dec. 6. Nationalizing the race may help Republican Herschel Walker win unless former President Donald Trump comes in and depresses turnout by casting doubts on the process, as he did two years ago — helping Democrats win their 49th and 50th Senate seats on Jan. 5, 2021.
Republicans had hoped to do better in Senate races this year, and many thought that polling understated Republican support, as it did in 2016 and 2020. But that doesn’t appear to have been the case. And Republican candidates who won primaries with Trump’s vocal support, but who got few Trump dollars in the general, tended to underperform more than polls suggested.
J.D. Vance did win Ohio, but he ran 9 points behind Gov. Mike DeWine. In Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz lost a seat Republicans have won in every election since 1968 and to a candidate, John Fetterman, whom a stroke left inarticulate. First-time candidate Blake Masters trails 52%-46% in Arizona, where Republicans won every Senate race between 1992 and 2016. Don Bolduc lost 54%-44% in New Hampshire to Maggie Hassan, who won by just 1,017 votes in 2016.
In each case, candidates not carrying the Trump baggage might have won.
Conservative analysts have scoffed at Biden Democrats’ argument that democracy was at stake in this election. But plainly, the specter of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol hangs over candidates with the Trump imprimatur.
The biggest story of the night was the striking victories of Republican governors in the nation’s third and eighth most populous states, Florida and Georgia.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had been a target of furious Trump criticism since the former president lost the state narrowly in 2020, but last May, he defeated a Trump-backed challenger by a 51-point margin. Kemp benefited this fall from his decisions to end COVID lockdowns and stoutly defended the Georgia election laws decried as “Jim Crow 2.0” by Biden and Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. In 2018, he had won 50%-49% by 54,000 votes, although Abrams, much ballyhooed by fashionable press, denied that she really lost. This time, Kemp beat Abrams 53%-46% and won by 294,000 votes.
Georgia, by the way, has the nation’s third-highest percentage of black voters, with many black people from flagging northern cities flocking to comfortable suburbs in metro Atlanta. Kemp won 13% of black voters this year and 38% of the state’s growing number of Hispanic voters.
The biggest winner of election 2022 was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Four years ago, he carried Florida 50%-49%, by just 32,000 votes, and he has been under repeated attack by the national press for his policies on COVID, concentrating on protecting the elderly and insisting on open schools and outdoor activities, and for a bill forbidding overt sexual material in kindergarten through third grade.
His mettle was tested when Hurricane Ian attacked southwest Florida on Sept. 28 at a point not predicted by meteorologists (weather experts have improved greatly in recent decades but aren’t perfect). He got the Pine Island bridge repaired within three days and the Sanibel Island bridge repaired in three weeks rather than the predicted three months. He didn’t just promise to build things — he delivered.
This year, DeSantis won reelection by 19 points, a 1,506,000-vote margin, in the state that George W. Bush carried in 2000 by a 537-vote margin after 35 days of recounts and litigation.
DeSantis carried 62 of 67 counties and won 16% from black people. He carried Hispanics 52%-45%. He carried majority-Hispanic Miami-Dade County 55%-44% — the first Republican governor to win there since Jeb Bush in 2002. He also carried heavily Jewish Palm Beach County, the first Republican governor to win there since 1986. He carried majority-Hispanic Osceola County, which includes part of Disney World, 53%-46%.
DeSantis won majorities from women, as well as men, from all age groups, from all income groups, and from every religious group except Jews (he got only 42%) and those with no religion (only 40%). Overall, the DeSantis victory looks like the model for the durable national Republican majority that neither George W. Bush nor Trump was able to deliver.
This Florida model may be applicable further than the disappointing, for Republicans, Senate election results. On current returns, DeSantis won by larger percentage and popular vote margins than Democrat Gavin Newsom in California and much larger margins than Democrat Kathy Hochul in New York or billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker in Illinois.
In those big states, Democrats’ margins have held up in glitzy neighborhoods packed with liberal white college graduates but have sagged elsewhere, thanks to high rates of crime, homelessness and taxes, and as is apparent in races for congressional races. To use a phrase I came up with in the 1970s and have found apposite since, Democrats are carrying the beautiful people but losing the dutiful people.
You can see the aggregate effect if you add together the votes for Republican and Democratic governors in the 10 most populous states (using votes for senator in North Carolina, which elects governors in presidential years). The result so far this year is Republicans 51% and Democrats 48%.
We have been accustomed to a politics in which Republicans carry rural areas and run hopelessly behind in major metropolitan areas. DeSantis’s performance suggests that that’s not inevitable. He carried the Gold Coast (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties), metro Tampa, metro Orlando, and metro Jacksonville — something no Republican presidential candidate has done since the 1980s, in another era when voters also feared high crime and high inflation.
The DeSantis triumph in Florida and Kemp’s solid win in Georgia stand in vivid contrast to the disappointing-to-dismal fates of the candidates who rode Trump endorsements to primary victories and then, with little or no funding from Trump and on the defensive from his faults, fell short of the Republican potential.
Relitigating the 2020 election is a backward-looking posture and a vote-loser. Achieving a solid list of goals, delivering on promises, and standing up to criticism from the press with a solid command of the evidence is a vote-winner. Donald Trump and Joe Biden were the big election losers this week. Ron DeSantis was the big winner.