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The “red wave” misses the Senate

The parties’ even split persists with two races uncalled

U.S. Capitol

The “red wave” misses the Senate

Republicans hoping to see a red wave carry their candidates to a majority in the U.S. Senate were left treading water on Tuesday night, faced instead with the possibility of Democratic control or a return to a 50-50 split.

Ohio-based Republican campaign strategist Mark Weaver said that while many expected the midterm elections to swing hard against the party of a sitting president based on historical patterns, it isn’t a trend that’s set in stone by any means.

“The history of the out-of-power party doing better in the midterms is somewhat constrained,” Weaver explained.

While the midterm election results for Senate don’t necessarily make Democratic legislative pursuits any easier than they have been in the past two years, they frustrate Republican aims to capture both chambers of Congress. A handful of outstanding races continue to provide a sense of ambiguity even as the dust begins to settle, with results in Georgia and Nevada likely to determine the balance of the Senate.

Going into the night, Republicans needed to flip just one seat to turn the even 50-50 split into a narrow control. With 32 seats up for grabs, that seemed promising. Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada in particular looked ripe for the taking—all held by Democratic incumbents. But any attempt to win a majority would have to start with holding on to seats they already had.

Republicans had reason to be nervous. There was going to be a lot of turnover.

Katie Britt of Alabama, Ted Budd of North Carolina, and Eric Schmitt of Missouri—all Republican candidates—as expected held the seats of outgoing Republican Sens. Richard Shelby, Richard Burr, and Roy Blunt, respectively. These races took place in states that heavily favored Republicans. But there were other, more contested races, that Republicans had to win.

In Ohio, J.D. Vance preserved the seat for Republicans following the retirement of Sen. Rob Portman. In what was originally considered a toss-up, Vance held a convincing eight-point lead over U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan by the time the Associated Press called the contest. The same did not pan out for Senate candidate Mehmet Oz who was looking to take over the seat of outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Instead, Democrat John Fetterman clawed out a lead and held onto it as the night rolled to a close.

“We’re in partisan times, and races like the [Senate race in Pennsylvania] reflect the partisan breakdown of the state,” Weaver said. “Pennsylvania is a lighter shade of blue than Oregon, but it’s been Democrat for decades and only occasionally showing some purple or red tendencies. I would’ve been surprised if Fetterman won by 10. I would’ve been surprised if Oz won by 10. Pennsylvania’s just very divided.”

But defending seats is only half of the picture. Republicans had hoped to strip at least one seat, maybe more, from Democratic incumbents. Here Republicans looked to familiar battleground states like Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona.

Down in Georgia, once a reliable Republican State, the contest between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and former NFL running back Hershel Walker ended in a near tie with no answers in sight. While neither candidate captured the 50 percent needed to claim victory, Warnock has a fingertip lead of 1 percent. If by the time all the votes are counted neither candidate has secured victory, Georgia will be forced to hold a runoff election in four weeks. In the middle of the struggle, independent candidate Chase Oliver managed to pick up 2.1 percent of ballots cast—enough to make a difference later on. Oliver has said he doesn’t owe an allegiance to either party and hasn’t signaled whether he intends to tell his voters to support either contender.

Senate races in Nevada and Arizona are also still up in the air with large portions of their vote outstanding as of Wednesday morning. In Arizona, Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly holds a 6-point lead over challenger Blake Masters. And in Nevada, Republican challenger Adam Laxalt has a narrow 3-point edge over Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. Nevada’s race, if won by Laxalt, would flip a seat in favor of Republicans, giving them the possibility of renewing a 50-50 senate.

And in Wisconsin, where Democrats failed to wrestle a Senate seat away from Republican incumbent Ron Johnson.

While President Joe Biden can likely breathe a sigh of relief to not have to work with “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell” for now, Democrats will not have much more to work with in the Senate than they did before. In the Senate, it takes 60 votes for a successful “cloture” vote—a move to suspend debate and vote on any given issue. It only takes a simple majority to pass any piece of legislation, but it’s this cloture vote that clears legislation from the threat of a filibuster. Without that supermajority, Democrats will still be at the mercy of Republican votes on most issues.

Special Senate maneuvers like the budget reconciliation procedure allow Democrats to pass certain pieces of legislation with just 50 votes. Here, party unity is key. Frequent party dissenters like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona may have slightly less leverage if Democrats pick up a slim majority.

Of the states with outstanding results, Georgia is the wildcard. The potential for a runoff makes either party’s hope to control the Senate a cliffhanger that may span weeks.

with reporting by Carolina Lumetta

Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this report from its initial posting to reflect the results in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate election.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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