Despite Discontent, Midterm Voters Did Not Kick Out Incumbents

The landscape before the election looked bleak for incumbents, especially Democratic ones. But early tallies show that voters mostly opted to keep their members of Congress.

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Despite Discontent, Midterm Voters Did Not Kick Out Incumbents |

Senator Patty Murray, center, was re-elected in Washington State by hyping up legislation on climate, reducing prescription drug costs and protecting abortion rights.

High inflation. President Biden’s low approval ratings. Polls showing that a majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the direction of the country.

The overall landscape heading into the 2022 midterm elections looked bleak for incumbents across the country, and for Democratic ones in particular, as many braced to feel voters’ outrage after Republican-led attacks on crime, immigration and high food and gas prices. But early tallies show that voters have mostly opted to keep their members of Congress.

Of more than 365 House districts in which an incumbent faced re-election, only six Democrats have so far lost their seats: Cindy Axne of Iowa, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Al Lawson of Florida and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona. All six were competing in places where redistricting had made their chances harder.

On the Republican side, that number stands at three: Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mayra Flores of Texas and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico.

In the Senate, no incumbent has lost re-election yet, though three Democrats in battleground states — Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Mark Kelly in Arizona and Raphael Warnock in Georgia — remain in heated races.

“Without the most vulnerable Democratic races settled, it is hard to draw sweeping conclusions,” said Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyses congressional races. “But so far, there doesn’t seem to have been — in either chamber — an anti-incumbent wave.”

If Ms. Cortez Masto, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Warnock hold on, Mr. Rubashkin added, it will be the first time that no Senate incumbent has lost a general election since 1914. That was the first election after the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which provided for the popular election of senators rather than their appointment by state legislatures.

ImageSenator Mark Kelly of Arizona raised far more money than his Republican opponent, Blake Masters.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Democrats attribute their victories to strong candidates, robust fund-raising and effective messaging on abortion and on legislative accomplishments like a major bipartisan infrastructure package and measures to lower the costs of prescription drugs. “Our members were able to show that they were delivering for their communities in real ways,” said Chris Hayden, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

They also pointed to the weaknesses of Republican candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump, some of whom amplified lies of a 2020 stolen election and took absolutist stances on abortion, both of which Democrats attacked as extremist.

Who Will Control Congress? Here’s When We’ll Know.

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Much remains uncertain. For the second Election Day in a row, election night ended without a clear winner. Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, takes a look at the state of the races for the House and Senate, and when we might know the outcome:

The House. Republicans are likelier than not to win the House, but it is no certainty. There are still several key races that remain uncalled, and in many of these contests, late mail ballots have the potential to help Democrats. It will take days to count them.

The Senate. The fight for the Senate will come down to three states: Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Outstanding ballots in Nevada and Arizona could take days to count, but control of the chamber may ultimately hinge on Georgia, which is headed for a Dec. 6 runoff.

How we got here. The political conditions seemed ripe for Republicans to make big midterm pickups, but voters had other ideas. Read our five takeaways and analysis of why the “red wave” didn’t materialize for the G.O.P.

Republicans countered that they had, in effect, defeated the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents even before the midterm campaign began.

“We spent the early part of the cycle aggressively coaxing Democrats into retirement” said Calvin Moore, a spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC devoted to electing House Republicans. “So a huge number of the competitive seats were open seats. If their candidates are so strong, why did they all run for the hills?”

The full picture is more complex, and it remains fluid.

Election officials have not finished counting ballots in close races in two battleground states, Arizona and Nevada. In Arizona, Mr. Kelly, a Democrat who won a special election in 2020 to fill the Senate seat of John McCain after his death, has been slightly ahead of his Republican challenger, Blake Masters. And a House Republican incumbent in a competitive district there, Representative David Schweikert, was only slightly trailing his Democratic opponent.

But those results could change as election officials begin counting hundreds of thousands of ballots cast on Election Day that could favor Republicans.

In Nevada, Ms. Cortez Masto, a Democrat, has been locked in a fierce contest with her Republican challenger, Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general. Two more House Democrats hold leads over their Republican opponents.

Other tight races in competitive districts across the country have also not been called, including those of a House Democratic incumbent in Maine and four in California .

In Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski, a centrist Republican seeking a fourth full term in Washington, and her Trump-backed Republican rival, Kelly Tshibaka, are headed toward a ranked-choice finale under the state’s new election system. In Georgia, Mr. Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, and his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, are headed to a December runoff election.

Nonpartisan election analysts said the lack of losses among Democratic incumbents appeared to be a testament to strong candidates who ran strong campaigns and showed they took heated races seriously. Those included Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who promoted his work on bills to expand infrastructure funding, promote domestic manufacturing of semiconductors and reduce childhood poverty.

In Washington State, Senator Patty Murray, who won a sixth term, faced a strong Republican challenge but clinched victory by trumpeting legislation on climate, reducing prescription drug costs and protecting abortion rights.

Representative Angie Craig of Minnesota trounced her Republican challenger, Tyler Kistner, in one of the closest House races in the country by centering her campaign on abortion rights and promoting endorsements from law enforcement officials. In Virginia, Representative Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat, focused on abortion and her work on infrastructure and tackling gun violence and won her race.

ImageIn Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican given to spreading misinformation, won a third term by a single percentage point.Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

Ms. Spanberger also portrayed her opponent, Yesli Vega, as an extremist after she was recorded describing people arrested in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as unfairly persecuted and falsely suggesting that pregnancy from rape was unlikely because “it’s not something that’s happening organically.”

Money has also played a role. Mr. Kelly, who has a path to victory in Arizona, and Representatives Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan were among Democrats in competitive electoral contests who far outdistanced their challengers in fund-raising and emerged victorious.

For Republican incumbents, voters’ discontent worked to their advantage. In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson, a right-wing Republican given to spreading misinformation, won a third term, turning back a challenge from Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in one of the country’s ugliest contests and the most expensive in Wisconsin history.

Mr. Johnson and his allies blitzed Mr. Barnes with ads portraying him as a soft-on-crime, anti-American radical. He won by a single percentage point, even as the state’s incumbent governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat, was re-elected by a comfortable margin.


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