After months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent on advertising, the message from America’s midterm elections could essentially be boiled down to: “Not as bad as Democrats feared.”
There were big wins for Republicans in Florida, and the party still seems likely to take the House, but elsewhere candidates endorsed by former president Donald Trump flopped, and there were key victories for supporters of reproductive rights.
As Trump licks his wounds after being compared to an egg on legs by a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, and as Democrats celebrate avoiding a predicted “red wave”, here’s a look at who did well, and who suffered.
Joe Biden, US president
Much of the talk ahead of last Tuesday’s elections was about how Biden might tank the Democratic party’s candidates. Republicans across the country ran ads tying their opponents to Biden, banking that the unloved president would turn off voters. It didn’t work, as Democrats performed much better than expected across the board. Biden remains very unpopular – his approval rating dropped to 39% in a Reuters poll this week – but that doesn’t seem to be hindering his party. The results prompted Biden, who turns 80 later this month, to repeat his recent assertions that he will run for a second term as president in two years’ time.
Ron DeSantis, Republican Florida governor
It’s not just that the Florida governor won re-election, in what is supposed to be a swing state, by almost 20 points. In the process, DeSantis, 44, has also found himself anointed by the rightwing media as the future of the Republican party – in the case of the New York Post, quite literally: “DeFuture”, blasted the front page of the tabloid on Wednesday morning. DeSantis, an anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ rights Republican, is seen as a more palatable, less hysterical version of Donald Trump. He has been cagey about whether he will run for president in 2024, but if DeSantis does want to launch a campaign, then this was a pretty good way to start.
John Fetterman, Democrat Senate candidate
Three years ago John Fetterman was mayor of Braddock, a town of fewer than 2,000 people. On Tuesday he was elected to the US Senate, and will represent 13 million Pennsylvanians. It has been a remarkable rise, made all the more astonishing by the fact Fetterman had a stroke days before the Democratic primary in May. The 6ft 8in, tattooed, permanently hoodie-clad senator-elect is still recovering – he relied on closed captioning to process questions in a debate in October – but overcame a stiff challenge from Trump-backed Mehmet Oz to win relatively easily on Tuesday. Fetterman, who has previously said he owns only one suit, is going to have to do some clothes shopping.
Away from the noise and intrigue about Republican and Democratic candidates and races, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure to secure a constitutional right to abortion, blocking the imposition of a 1931 abortion ban in the state. In Kentucky, voters rejected a measure which would have denied constitutional protections for abortion. North Carolina Republicans failed to secure a majority which would have enabled them to ram through restrictive abortion bans, and it was a similar story in Wisconsin, where the re-elected Democratic governor, Tony Evers, will have the power to veto abortion laws proposed by the state legislature.
The one-term, twice-impeached president had a shocker of an evening, as one after another, many of his endorsed candidates flopped in key races across the country. The fact that many of the Republicans Trump had backed lost isn’t the only thing that will sting. Several of Trump’s people underperformed in states – including New Hampshire and Georgia – where Republicans who had not been anointed by Trump triumphed. To top it all off, Rupert Murdoch seems to have turned on Trump. On Thursday the New York Post, a Murdoch-owned tabloid, mocked up an image of Trump as Humpty Dumpty. “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall – can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?” read the accompanying text.
Republicans – outside Florida and New York
With an unpopular Democratic president, soaring inflation, high gas prices and widespread doom and gloom about the economy, this was supposed to be the night that Republicans swept through Congress in a “red wave”. They didn’t. By Friday, with votes still being tallied in some states, the Republican party was still short of a majority in the House and the Senate, as Democrats out-performed expectations across the country. There were some exceptions. In Florida both DeSantis and Marco Rubio, the state’s incumbent senator, cruised to victory, and Republicans flourished in state-level races too. It was, the Tampa Bay Times declared, “an electoral catastrophe for Democrats”.
(Some of) the unhinged candidates
In Pennsylvania Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist state senator who paid for buses to take people to what became the January 6 insurrection and tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was swept away in the governor’s race. Matthew DePerno, a fellow election conspiracy theorist who had branded Democrats “radical, cultural Marxists” lost his bid to be Michigan’s attorney general, and his ideological counterpart Kristina Karamo failed to become secretary of state. Tina Forte, a Republican who attended the January 6 rally and has dabbled in QAnon conspiracy theories, was crushed in her attempt to defeat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic congresswoman, in New York.