Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy proclaimed victory as Republicans secured enough seats to flip control of the U.S. House in their favor. McCarthy attributed his party’s election night success to the diverse array of candidates on the ballot this year across the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to concede that the House will flip.
Sara Ferris and Ally Mutnick; November 9, 2022
House Democrats largely avoided the midterm rout they had feared Tuesday night. Yet their own campaign chief wasn’t spared the hook.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) called his GOP opponent, Mike Lawler, to concede Wednesday morning after a nail-biter race in the Hudson Valley, becoming the first sitting House campaign arm leader in four decades to lose reelection.
Despite the blow of Maloney’s loss, however — and even as some battleground races remain uncalled — Tuesday night appeared to be a history-defying midterm. Republicans are still on track to reclaim the House, but the size of their majority will be much smaller than expected. Democrats flipped GOP seats in Ohio and Michigan while helping almost all of their high-priority incumbents hang on, including those in the toughest of seats such as Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.).
The big exception is Maloney, the embattled head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who watched GOP groups dump $10 million into his race in the final weeks.
“My opponent won this race, and he won it fair and square,” Maloney told reporters Wednesday morning at DCCC headquarters. “And that means something and so I’m going to step aside.”
But he noted that dozens of other key races were undecided: “As we sit here, I can’t with 100% certainty tell you who holds the House majority.”
The sheer number of Democratic victories stunned top party operatives, who had watched Tuesday’s early results with cautious optimism. By Wednesday morning, key open seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania had broken in Democrats’ favor — an extremely rare outcome in the first midterm for the party that controls the White House.
“While many races remain too close to call, it is clear that House Democratic members and candidates are strongly outperforming expectations across the country,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement overnight Wednesday.
So far, Republicans’ biggest bright spot is New York, which is on the verge of being an unmitigated disasterfor Democrats. Besides Maloney, it seems possible Long Island will turn completely red, with Republican George Santos also notching one Democratic flip.
The relief first began to wash over Democrats after early evening wins by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). The party also fended off what would have been a humiliating defeat in a Rhode Island district the GOP was fully expecting to win.
Heading into the night, Democrats were convinced that the headwinds they faced — namely, a turbulent economy and an unpopular president — were set to cost them seats even in states typically considered party strongholds, from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast. But they managed to stave off total defeat.
GOP attacks on inflation and crime have rattled longtime incumbents in what’s long been friendly territory in New York and could have contributed to Republicans’ win there.
Republicans notched some key wins in seats where the polling had been trending their way: Jen Kiggans defeated Rep. Elaine Luria in Virginia Beach after a hard-fought race there. They also appear on track to fell Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). But the problem for Republicans is that they captured a few seats beyond those expected to be easier pickups for them.
Democrats notched two key wins in South Texas with victories by Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez. Republicans picked up another open seat in the region, but were hoping for a sweep to cement gains they appeared to be making earlier this cycle in the region.
In a bellwether central Virginia district, Spanberger defeated GOP challenger Yesli Vega, bringing some optimism to the party ahead of a long night of waiting. And in Ohio, Democrats held onto Kaptur’s endangered Toledo-area seat even after it became redder in redistricting. GOP officials had been confident about ousting Kaptur until their candidate, J.R. Majewski, lost funding from national Republicans after reports that he misrepresented his military service.
With just five seats standing between them and the speaker’s gavel, GOP lawmakers and officials started the night predicting their gains will be far larger. That confidence was bolstered by competitive polling in districts like the Rhode Island open seat, as well as heavily Democratic turf in South Texas, the greater Los Angeles area, upstate New York and the suburbs of Portland, Ore.
By midnight on Tuesday night, even House Minority Kevin McCarthy’s victory party had been largely zapped of enthusiasm.
The favorable national environment for Republicans helped bolster their potentially vulnerable incumbent as open seats proved a huge liability for Democrats. Of the 37 districts that saw a Democratic incumbent retire this cycle, roughly 18 yielded a competitive race, draining precious party resources. But Democrats have proved much stronger than expected. Emilia Sykes won an open seat in northeast Ohio and Wiley Nickel notched a win in North Carolina.
Even so, Democrats have insisted they are still in the fight despite the GOP’s projected gains from redistricting alone.
Many in the party had started the night hopeful they could hold Republicans to a small majority, making life difficult for a likely future Speaker Kevin McCarthy, despite the tight polling in blue territory.
In a briefing with senior leadership staff one week ago, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Democrats’ chances of holding the House were approximately nil before Roe’s reversal, according to multiple people on the call. But in early fall, DCCC’s own modeling had forecast a slim Democratic majority of 220 seats — a sign they still had a fighting chance.
The polls tightened in later October, as expected, DCCC Executive Director Tim Persico recapped on the call. But, he contended, party candidates remained still neck-and-neck and could hold the majority if key races broke their way on Tuesday.
It wasn’t just President Joe Biden’s low approval boosting the GOP: Cash-rich Republican super PACs have dumped hundreds of millions of dollars on endangered Democrats from Orange County, Calif., to northern Maine. Democrats have scrambled to make up the gap, focusing for much of the fall on piling up more donor dollars.
And in recent weeks, a good chunk of those GOP ad dollars have focused on a particularly potent attack: fears of rising crime.
“When you talk to everyday Oregonians, the fact is that they’re just afraid to go downtown. They don’t want to walk on the streets with their kids,” said GOP candidate Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor in the Portland, Ore., suburbs who’s now in position to flip a seat there.
Photo: Barry Reeger/AP Photo