Election Recap: Don't F**k With Abortion
The long-promised Red Wave never materialized, and voters sent a clear message to Republicans and its hard-right Supreme Court: Don't mess with women's reproductive rights!
Well, well, well.
The Red Wave that Republicans, the media, and pundits from various political affiliations predicted would swamp Democrats and effectively make the oft-maligned Joe Biden a lame-duck president never materialized. We can get cute and say the so-called “Wave” was more like a trickle, but whatever characterization you prefer belies reality: It was a devastating night for Republicans even if they manage to take control of the House.
There were signs early on that Republicans were in for a frustrating night, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire jumping out to a big lead and eventually winning the contest pretty much out of the gate. (For context, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average only gave Hassan a +1.4 advantage going into the night, yet she’s enjoying a 9-point advantage with more than 80 percent of the votes counted.) At the same time, Democrats were performing well in other areas as well, including in Georgia, where the incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock is maintaining a slim advantage in a race that will likely end in a runoff.
While there are still plenty of votes to be counted across the country, it appears Republicans will wrestle away control of the House, but with only a slim majority—far smaller than most in Washington and beyond anticipated, especially when you consider historic midterm trends and Biden’s consistently dismal approval ratings. Remarkably, Democrats managed to win competitive House races in Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia—contests that you’d expect to go in the complete opposite direction in a “Wave” election.
In a year dominated by news of inflation (blatant corporate profiteering), the economy more generally (which is weird given low unemployment rates), high gas prices, and a media-driven narrative about crime, it’s even more shocking that Democrats and Biden managed to limit the GOP’s likely House advantage and potentially hold onto the U.S. Senate—where they actually flipped a seat with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s win over TV doctor and crudité connoisseur Mehmet Oz.
While elections are complicated and it’s difficult to provide a clear explanation of the results, which are mixed (see Florida and even New York to an extent), it’s clear that the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June energized Democrats and help blunt the GOP. Abortion was literally on the ballot in several states, and residents of Michigan, California, and Vermont resoundingly voted to protect women’s reproductive rights. In jurisdictions where abortion wasn’t technically on the ballot, it was among the most important issues for voters:
To be sure, last night had plenty of surprises and will likely be remembered as one of the few midterms that did not end up being a referendum on the party in power. However, there were other historic wins and interesting takeaways that also deserve attention, including big victories for recreational marijuana, significant losses for Trump and MAGA politics, and other historic firsts.
As we mentioned, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which sent shivers down many Americans’ spines and shattered decades of precedent, ended up being the political earthquake that some suggested it would be back in the summer.
The CBS exit survey referenced in the above Tweet had abortion (36 percent) as the top issue for Pennsylvania voters, with inflation running eight points behind, and crime—which took up so much of the airwaves—a distant third, at only 11 percent.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision taking away women’s constitutional right to an abortion, Democrats made a concerted effort to go all-in on the issue and proclaimed that “abortion was on the ballot.” I can’t believe I’m saying this about Democrats, but it appears their bet has actually paid off. Not only did voters support abortion rights in states where the issue was on the ballot—including in Kentucky (!!)—it seemed to have buoyed Democratic candidates such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was reelected with a comfortable margin on a night that voters also strongly backed a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights. According to the Washington Post, nearly half of all Michigan voters said abortion was their top issue. And a quick note about Michigan: Democrats now control the state legislature and the governor’s office—which hasn’t happened in decades.
Ballot measures on abortion in California and Vermont also passed comfortably, which doesn’t come as a surprise. That Kentucky voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would’ve denied abortion access speaks volumes, especially on a night when Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won reelection by a nearly 23-percent margin. Of course, this comes just months after a huge victory for abortion rights advocates in Kansas, which overwhelmingly rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would’ve banned abortions. Yes, Kansas, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Lyndon B. Johnson!
We’re not experts, but the takeaway seems simple: Republicans’ extreme position on abortion burned them.
We need to talk about weed.
Recreational marijuana, which is legal in 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., was on the ballot in five states on Tuesday. Voters in Missouri and Maryland approved such measures, while those in Arkansas and North and South Dakota rejected their respective proposals. In Maryland and Missouri, the approved laws will go beyond simply permitting the use of recreational marijuana, and could have a huge impact on people previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses. In Maryland, for instance, people with certain convictions will be able to apply to have their records expunged. Similarly, in Missouri, people with certain non-violent drug offenses will be able to apply for release from prison, parole, or probation, and have their records expunged.
The United States, it appears, is ever so slowly on a path to righting some of the wrongs of the racist and punitive War on Drugs. While conventional wisdom points to Nixon and Reagan as the chief prosecutors of the drug war, it actually dates back to the Prohibition era and was led by a particularly autocratic government bureaucrat who was seemingly lost to history. You can learn more about that in our “Origins of the War on Drugs” podcast episode.
An Indictment of Trump
Okay, not that indictment, though it’s very possible the feds may have something to say about it in due time. Let’s best honest, Tuesday’s results are very much unfavorable to Trump, who may actually be losing his grip on the GOP. Sure, we might be engaging in hyperbole, and Trump’s backers or people in the media might eye-roll at that suggestion, but when you put the night into context, there’s no way of sugar-coating it.
Trump backed divisive candidates, including many election deniers, that fared poorly on Tuesday, including Doug Mastriano, who lost the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race rather handily. Trump’s favored TV personality, Dr. Oz, fell to Fetterman and is down by more than 3 points as votes are still being counted. Again, for perspective, the Real Clear Politics average had Oz up slightly heading into Election Day. Trump also endorsed Tudor Dixon in the Michigan governor’s race and, while she was seen as a slight underdog (-1) based on the RCP average, Dixon lost by a healthy margin. In Arizona, Trump-backed candidates Kari Lake (governor’s race) and Blake Masters (U.S. Senate) are in extremely close races as votes continue to be tallied. And if you look at Georgia, Herschel Walker is running behind Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who defeated Stacey Abrams in a rematch of the 2018 gubernatorial race.
Consider this quote, courtesy of The New York Times:
“If this proves to be another Senate flop in a year that was otherwise favorable to Republicans — even if not a wave — it will again be a function of the candidates they put up, which was unmistakably shaped and steered by Donald Trump,” said Liam Donovan, a former aide to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
And you can’t talk about Trump without mentioning Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won a close race in 2018, largely thanks to an endorsement from Trump. This year, the race wasn’t even close, and may suggest a GOP tilt toward DeSantis if the former allies challenge each other (and any other poor soul) in a Republican primary for the presidency. Obviously, Trump still enjoys widespread enthusiasm and sympathy from his base, but it’s difficult to look at Tuesday’s results as a positive for Trump, even if Walker wins Georgia outright or in an eventual runoff with Warnock.
Speaking of Florida, can we actually call it a swing state anymore? Republicans, including DeSantis, won big there. Sen. Marco Rubio cruised to reelection with a margin that doubled the RCP average, and DeSantis, the clear favorite in the gubernatorial race, beat Democrat Charlie Christ, a former Republican, by nearly 20 points. And that’s not all. Republicans in Florida picked up four Congressional seats and now have supermajorities in the state legislature. There may not have been a national Red Wave, but one seems to have most definitely hit Florida.
Joe Biden had a good night? If Democrats maintain control of the U.S. Senate, Biden can at least give the impression that as the party’s standard-bearer, he defied both expectations and decades of historical trends. As we mentioned above, the party in power often bleeds House seats during the midterms—25 on average—yet that didn’t materialize this time around. While his agenda may be harmed by potentially losing a legislative chamber, Biden can at least claim the voters support some of his policy measures—which is probably the best you can ask for, especially for someone who was expected to be a lame duck. And he may actually have solidified his hold on the Democratic party if he chooses to run for reelection in 2024. It’s unlikely anyone, even the most die-hard liberal, would’ve said that before Tuesday.
Progressives secured some wins on Tuesday, too—most notably Summer Lee, who won a closely watched Democratic primary and overcame a deluge of negative ads to win her race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District.
While Democrats in Florida did not have a lot to cheer about, they did get to celebrate 25-year-old Maxwell Frost’s victory in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, making Frost the first member of Generation Z to enter Congress.
Yes, there’s so much more to talk about, and we’ll have another newsletter for you in the coming days. For now, we’ll leave you with a Tweet from Ben Shapiro (yeah, sorry) that, while a tad over-dramatic, sort of sums up the evening for the GOP:
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