The November 8 midterm congressional elections ended up being far closer than many political analysts expected. Democrats were able to maintain control of the Senate after winning the Nevada Senate seat. With many ballots yet to be counted in key contests, party control of the House is still up in the air.
Here is what we know so far about the two chambers of Congress.
Polling leading up to the election heavily suggested a strong night for Republicans in the House of Representatives. It takes 218 seats to win a majority in the House, and the GOP only needed a net gain of five to take the majority. It still appears probable that Republicans will pick up those five seats, but it’s increasingly clear that the big majority some in the party were expecting won’t materialize.
That could make maintaining cohesion in a caucus that features a broad spectrum of ideologies, ranging from moderates to members of the alt-right, difficult. Exactly how much of a majority the GOP has will become clearer once California finishes its tally, something that could take weeks to do.
With Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto defeating her Republican challenger Adam Laxalt in the Nevada Senate race by a very close — 0.7 percentage points — margin, the Democratic party secured the 50-seat majority, defying the odds of Republicans winning full control of Congress. That also means Georgia’s runoff election on December 6 won’t change the majority control of the Senate.
Under Georgia law, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote outright — something neither Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock nor GOP candidate Herschel Walker were able to accomplish — the race goes to a runoff.
Democrats kept control of the Senate
Georgia: After neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote, incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock will face Republican Herschel Walker in a December runoff. That means Georgia could again decide control of the Senate, following runoff elections in 2020 that put Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in office and clinched the majority for Democrats. Expect an enormous blitz of campaigning and ad spending in the state over the next few weeks. Democrats will likely continue to seek to capitalize on scandals over Walker’s previous affairs and revelations he had paid for abortions despite saying on the campaign trail he was staunchly anti-abortion.
Nevada: Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Republican Secretary of State Adam Laxalt by a close margin of 0.7 percentage points, according to the Associated Press, which sealed the control of the Senate for the Democratic party.
The win of Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, in a close race in a battleground state, showed the lasting strength of the Democrats in a state where 30 percent of the voting population are Latino and more than 77 percent of the voters are working-class.
Arizona: In a race that doesn’t appear to have been quite as close as expected, Democrats managed to hold onto Arizona. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly won his first full six-year term against Republican challenger Blake Masters Friday, winning (with about 20 percent of the vote left to tally) 51 percent of the vote to Masters’s 46 percent, according to the Associated Press.
Kelly was propelled to office in a 2020 special election to fill a vacant seat after his career as an astronaut and provided Democrats with a key vote for their legislative agenda in the last two years. Masters drew some enthusiasm from the GOP base as an unabashed hard-right candidate, but he was also a prominent example of Republicans nominating an extreme candidate in a swing state. Now that Masters has fallen short in his bid, expect even more agonizing over the quality of the candidates (or lack thereof) that the GOP put forward in pivotal campaigns this year.
There is actually only one Senate seat that’s changed hands so far — and it flipped to the Democrats.
Pennsylvania: After a very tight battle, Democratic candidate John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz to flip the Republican-held open seat in Pennsylvania. He’ll replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The race saw an unexpected twist earlier in the campaign when Fetterman suffered a stroke, and Oz appeared to close the gap as the race wound down.
But thanks, in part, to the strength of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro at the top of the ticket and a more favorable environment for Democrats overall, Fetterman ended up winning on Tuesday without having to sweat it too much.
Long-shot Republican opportunities that appeared to be in play if the out-of-power party had an excellent night across the board quickly slipped away Tuesday night once it became clear a red wave was not going to materialize. Most notably:
New Hampshire: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan comfortably won reelection after a few weeks of tight polls, Republican confidence, and Democratic anxiety. Hassan beat GOP nominee Don Bolduc, a far-right candidate who claimed Trump won the 2020 election and supports the rollback of abortion rights.
But in one bright spot for Republicans, they did not lose the Senate election in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin: The state had appeared safely in hand before Election Day, before the actual vote-counting began and the race turned out to be surprisingly close. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson eked out a victory over Democrat Mandela Barnes, but the tightness of this race was a sign of surprising Democratic strength across the country.
Republicans are poised to take the House, but it’s close
Control of the House remains in the balance. There’s still a possibility that it could go Democrats’ way, though projections by multiple news organizations suggest that Republicans will win it by a slim margin. That’s far short of expectations: Heading into election night, the Cook Political Report projected that the GOP would pick up between 12 and 25 seats.
Republicans did well in Florida, while Democrats were able to defend a couple of key seats targeted by Republicans in Virginia. In deep red Texas, a well-funded Republican campaign failed to flip seats in the border region of the Rio Grande Valley, despite signs that Latino voters have gravitated toward the GOP in recent elections.
For Republicans, that’s a disappointing result after they appeared to have momentum in the final weeks of the campaign, as concerns about inflation dominated in the polls and their closing message on crime appeared to resonate. Democrats were also facing headwinds: It’s typical that the party of the incumbent president fares worse in midterm elections, and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings, though slightly up from their previous low, are still underwater. Democrats also faced a wave of retirements, and redistricting was seen to have favored Republicans.
But what is certain is that as speaker of the house, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would have his work cut out for him in terms of wrangling a divided GOP caucus. Republicans’ poor showing on election night could jeopardize his chances of winning the speakership, and even if he’s successful, his predecessors in GOP leadership, former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, both retired from politics after presiding over slim Republican majorities, which made them subject to the whims of the party’s right wing.
Democrats largely held their ground in governors’ races
Democrats were able to defend almost all of the key governorships targeted by Republicans.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers both won tough reelection fights after campaigning on their opposition to pre-Roe abortion bans that Republicans have sought to enforce in their states. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul won a full term, becoming the state’s first woman elected governor, after facing an unusually credible Republican challenge from Rep. Lee Zeldin amid concerns in the blue state over public safety and the economy.
Incumbent Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, one of four Democratic governors in states that voted for Trump in 2020, fended off Republican Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. And in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited, Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated Doug Mastriano, a key figure in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.
As expected, Democrats were also able to pick up two GOP-held governorships in Maryland and Massachusetts and easily held the line in Maine and New Mexico. They were disappointed, however, in Georgia: Democrat Stacey Abrams lost her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Oregon is a reliably blue state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982, but Republican Christine Drazan gave Democrat Tina Kotek, who will become one of the first openly lesbian governors, a difficult challenge. The race was competitive in part because a third unaffiliated candidate, Betsy Johnson, appeared to siphon some votes away from Kotek, who was ultimately declared the winner on Friday.
In Nevada, incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak was locked in a tight race with endorsed Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo for most of the week, but Lombardo was declared the winner Friday evening. Sisolak had been elected in 2018 as the first Democratic governor in the state in two decades, but came under fire for his pandemic restrictions, under which tourism, travel, and conferences in the state ground to a halt with devastating impacts on the local economy.
The governor’s race in Arizona remains too close to call.
In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is term-limited, and the Republican running to succeed him, Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, is a rising GOP star who has embraced the former president’s 2020 election lies. The Democrat, current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, has framed the race as a choice between “sanity and chaos.” With 83 percent of the votes counted as of late November 12, Hobbs was narrowly ahead by just 1 percentage point.
Update: November 13: This story has been updated to reflect Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s win in Nevada, and other Nevada and Arizona results.