Democrats won races for top election posts in several political battlegrounds where their Republican rivals had cast doubt on the 2020 contest and signaled their desire to overhaul voting systems.
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, defeated Tudor Dixon. Shortly before the election, Ms. Whitmer told a crowd, “My vetoes are protecting your voting rights, and I’m damn glad I have that veto pen.”
Voters in a series of critical battleground states rejected Republican candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state who have spread doubts about the 2020 election, blocking an effort to install allies of former President Donald J. Trump in positions with sweeping authority over voting.
In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Democrats prevailed on Tuesday against Republican opponents who, to varying degrees, had campaigned on overhauling elections in ways that would benefit their party and called into question their commitment to democratic outcomes.
The results fell short of a nationwide backlash to Republican election deniers. Several such candidates for Senate were victorious, including J.D. Vance in Ohio and Representative Ted Budd in North Carolina, and dozens more won races for less prominent offices. Democrats also remain locked in contests against far-right rivals for governor and secretary of state in Arizona and Nevada that were too close to call on Wednesday.
But in several places where the question of how to run elections was directly on the ballot — particularly races for secretary of state — Trump-aligned Republicans did not do well. Setting aside Arizona and Nevada, where two leading proponents of 2020 election lies could still win, Democratic candidates for secretary of state beat far-right opponents in Michigan, New Mexico and Minnesota, and were defeated by such a candidate only in deep-red Indiana.
See Which 2020 Election Deniers and Skeptics Won in the Midterm Elections
More than 200 Republicans who questioned or denied the 2020 election results have won in the midterms so far.
Voters’ verdict in several states amounted to a repudiation — at least in part — of some of the most extreme positions on elections that Republicans have adopted since Mr. Trump’s 2020 defeat. In several closely watched races, Republicans who have staked out such ground fared worse on Tuesday night than their G.O.P. counterparts who recognized President Biden’s legitimacy.
“I don’t feel like you can have a democracy where it’s like, ‘Either I win or you cheated,’” Logan Patmon, 30, of Detroit said at a weekend rally for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who won on Tuesday. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but when people have that ‘Our winner was cheated,’ that’s like a developing, barely democratic country to me. I don’t like that.”
For more than two years, Democrats, voting rights groups, scholars and some moderate Republicans have warned about those who seek to undermine the democratic system. While voters have not made it their top priority, they have demonstrated an awareness of the dangers, with images of the 2021 Capitol riot still flashing on American screens, the House committee investigating the attack broadcasting its findings and new controversies over armed poll watchers and threats to election officials making headlines.
But on Tuesday, in many ways, the resilience of the country’s democracy was on display. Turnout appeared high. Voting mostly went smoothly, apart from a few glitches that election officials resolved. Both parties put forward increasingly diverse fields of candidates. Meaningful numbers of voters, despite the nation’s polarization, split their tickets. And most candidates — though not all — conceded their losses.
Afterward, Democrats in important races hailed their victories as a blow against one of the starkest threats to American government in generations.
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. The Needle suggests the House is leaning towards Republicans, but the G.O.P. is nowhere close to being called the winner in several key races, where late mail ballots have the potential to help Democrats. It will take days to count these ballots.
The Senate. The fight for the Senate will come down to four states: Wisconsin, 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. While we wait for more results, read our five takeaways and analysis of why this “red wave” didn’t materialize for the G.O.P.
“You showed up because you saw that democracy was on the brink of existence and you decided to do a damn thing about it,” Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin told supporters early Wednesday after a concession of defeat by his Republican rival, Tim Michels, who had promised that Republicans would “never lose another election” in Wisconsin if he were elected.
To some degree, the results represented a shoring up of the election apparatus in key states before the 2024 presidential election, as Mr. Trump indicates strongly that he will run again. If his chosen candidates had won, their stated positions — including calls to eliminate voting by mail and election machines — would have pre-emptively raised questions about the fairness of the 2024 contest in their states and whether a Democratic victory would be certified.
ImageIn Wisconsin, Tim Michels, a Trump-endorsed Republican who entertained the idea of decertifying the 2020 election results, lost to Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times
The Democratic victories in competitive states like Wisconsin will also keep in place a check on Republican-led legislatures that have tried to enact restrictive voting laws and have even moved to give themselves more power over elections.
“Voters sent a very clear message: They believe in our elections, they believe in our freedom to vote,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United Action, a nonpartisan election group. “The voters stepped up to defend democracy, and in most places, Americans decisively rejected election deniers who wanted power over their votes.”
The nation’s system is still under strain. On Wednesday, Republicans still had a path to retaking Congress — either through a single chamber or both — at a time when some in their party have tried to upend the previously routine certification of presidential elections. And the Supreme Court is set to hear a major case that could give state legislatures nearly unchecked authority over federal elections.
Democrats, as a whole, did not run on democracy this year. Total ad spending on abortion outpaced that of democracy issues by 10 to one. But the three Democratic candidates for governor in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as contenders for secretary of state, made democracy more central to their campaigns than most other members of their party.
2022 Midterm Elections: Live Updates
Updated Nov. 9, 2022, 2:29 p.m. ET
- Warnock and Walker head to a runoff in the pivotal Georgia Senate race.
- Democrats cling to supermajorities in the N.Y. Legislature amid G.O.P. gains.
- Kelly is re-elected as the governor of Kansas, retaining a foothold for Democrats.
In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the state’s Democratic attorney general, defeated Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator who marched near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and has pushed for significant new voting restrictions.
In Michigan, Ms. Whitmer, the Democratic incumbent, beat Tudor Dixon, a Republican challenger who was backed by Mr. Trump and the wealthy DeVos family. At a rally on Saturday in Detroit, Ms. Whitmer boasted that “my vetoes are protecting your voting rights, and I’m damn glad I have that veto pen.”
ImageJocelyn Benson, at an event in Detroit, defeated Kristina Karamo, a Republican who ardently pushed Mr. Trump’s false 2020 election claims.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times
Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, also won, defeating Kristina Karamo, a Republican who ardently pushed Mr. Trump’s false 2020 claims. At the same rally in Detroit, speaking before Ms. Whitmer, Ms. Benson offered a stark assessment of the stakes of her race: “Every vote that is cast in this election will determine whether your votes are going to be counted in future elections,” she said.
And in Michigan’s race for attorney general, Dana Nessel, the Democratic incumbent, edged past Matthew DePerno, a Republican who was one of the architects of a conspiracy theory involving 2020 election machines in a rural county.
Tuesday’s victories for Democrats helped stymie plans set in motion immediately after the 2020 election, as Republicans aimed to nominate Trump allies to top election posts in battleground states. By the spring, a slate of so-called America First candidates had recruited more than a dozen contenders for secretary of state and other top election positions. Six won their primaries, including in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.
The presence on the ballot of multiple allies of Mr. Trump — all whom had falsely claimed that the 2020 election was in some way rigged or stolen — elevated the stakes of these once quiet, bureaucratic races. Democrats and outside groups poured millions into the contests, outspending Republicans 18 to one in Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, according to Ad Impact, an ad-tracking firm.
“In a midterm election in which the out-of-power party should by every measure of normal political dynamics have had a tremendous night, the single reason they didn’t is because they hitched their wagon to a fundamentally un-American, anti-democratic demagogue,” said Ian Bassin, the executive director of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group.
Democratic money also poured into races for state legislatures, which have gained prominence as they steer policy on issues like abortion rights and voting access. Two Democratic super PACs pledged to invest more than $80 million in six battleground states; there was no similar organized effort on the Republican side.
And in Michigan, Democrats appeared likely to flip both chambers of the Legislature, winning the State Senate for the first time since 1983 and potentially bringing the state under total Democratic control. That apparent success was the result of newly drawn districts by an independent commission that untangled decades of Republican gerrymandering.
Though issues in state legislative races can be driven by hyperlocal conflicts — over issues like traffic, roads or garbage pickup — Republican candidates who supported false claims about the 2020 election fared poorly.
“The candidates obsessed with conspiracy theories and a national narrative were telling the voters in their district, I’m not going to serve you,” said Daniel Squadron, a former Democratic state senator from New York and a founder of the States Project, a Democratic super PAC focused on state legislatures. “Candidates focused on what voters were concerned about — and sometimes that was democracy — were communicating that they were going to spend their time trying to improve lives.”
Despite the Democratic victories, Republicans maintain control of both chambers of the Legislature in Wisconsin and may still hold the General Assembly in Pennsylvania, and dozens of legislators who have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election won re-election on Tuesday.
ImageJosh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general, defeated Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator who marched near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times
Some of the losing Republican candidates have also indicated that they will challenge the results; despite losing by more than 13 percentage points, Mr. Mastriano has still not conceded.
The Republican defeats can be seen as a rejection of Mr. Trump, who has demanded that G.O.P. candidates show fealty to his falsehoods about the 2020 election. In some cases, his support helped them win tough Republican primaries, leaving them indebted to him.
But a continued focus on the 2020 election, at a time when Americans indicated that economic issues were their top concern, clearly turned off some voters. And Democrats were quick to paint their opponents’ views on the 2020 election as part of a broader streak of extremism.
“It sure as hell isn’t freedom to say, ‘You can go vote, but he gets to pick the winner,’” Mr. Shapiro said at a rally last weekend, referring to Mr. Mastriano. “That’s not freedom.”
Julie Scheibner, a Realtor in Wisconsin, said she was worried about the state of democracy. There was the Capitol riot, which a lot of people around the country seemed to dismiss as nothing, she said. Then there was the widespread false belief that the 2020 election had been stolen.
On Wednesday morning, she was bundled up against the cold in downtown Racine, a grin on her face.
“It’s still there,” she said. “Apparently, we still believe in democracy.”
Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Racine, Wis.