Nov 9, 2022

SPECIAL EDITION: Democrats' shocking performance.

SPECIAL EDITION: Democrats' shocking performance.
Control of the Senate may come down to a runoff election between Raphael Warnock (left) and Herschel Walker (right). Image: Magdalena Bokowa 

Despite so many predictions, there was no red wave.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 15 minutes

Today, we're taking a look at Democrats suprisingly strong night, where the midterm race stands now, and what to expect in the next few days. Plus, a list of notable election results and a mea culpa on my inaccurate predictions.


This is a very silly one, but yesterday, in our numbers sections, we described the "Arizona" Senate race between Adam Laxalt and Catherine Cortez Masto. As many eagle-eyed readers pointed out, that is the Senate race in Nevada, not Arizona. You'll have to excuse the error on account of trying to track dozens of Senate races and hundreds of House races all at once — I think my brain will need a nice break this weekend.

This is our 71st correction in Tangle's 170-week history and our first correction since October 31st. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

The big picture.

"Well, that was the craziest Election Night I’ve ever seen."

Those were the first public words from Dave Wasserman, Cook Political Report's congressional election expert, on Wednesday morning. And they accurately sum up the prevailing sentiment across the political world.

The word is overused in headlines and television scripts, but in this case it actually fits: Last night was shocking.

As we noted yesterday, the party in the White House historically loses 28 House seats and four Senate seats, on average. Given President Biden's low approval ratings, the polling advantages for Republicans on the generic ballot, and the concerns over inflation and crime, many pundits and pollsters were expecting a red wave.

Instead, Democrats have a clear path to picking up a seat in the Senate and are keeping the race for the House — which seemed like a foregone conclusion — much tighter than anticipated. Republicans may still end up with control of both the Senate and House, but they will need to win two of the three still undecided Senate races in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia to get there.

Right now, they are on track to have one of the weakest performances for an out-of-power party against a first-term president that we've seen since the unique post-9/11 midterms of 2002.

What happened.

In the Senate, Democrats are holding 48 seats to Republicans' 47. In The House, Republicans have won 197 seats to Democrats' 172. Gubernatorial races in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico went to Democrats, while Republicans won governorships in Georgia and Florida. We are still awaiting results from Arizona, where Katie Hobbs (D) currently has 50.33% of the vote to Kari Lake's (R) 49.67%, with 66% of the vote reported.

Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Alaska are yet to be called, and will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years (Alaska's race is down to Lisa Murkowski and Kelly Tshibaka, two Republicans, so its outcome won't impact the Senate majority; Murkowski is currently a heavy favorite to win). 66 House races across the country are still yet to be called, as of this writing.

Perhaps the biggest win of the night for Democrats was in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman (50%) defeated Dr. Mehmet Oz (47%), and Josh Shapiro (D) cruised past Doug Mastriano by a 13-point margin in the state's gubernatorial race. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State House is a toss-up, and if Democrats flip control of the chamber it would give them their first majority in 12 years. We gave Pennsylvania's Senate race a lot of coverage because of its implications for 2024 and what it would tell us about the national mood — and Democrats out-performed the polls. Exit polling showed abortion was the top issue for voters.

Now, all eyes turn to Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. The race between Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) looks destined for a runoff, as neither candidate has 50% of the vote with 96% in. That means another election on December 6, potentially with control of the Senate at stake. In Nevada, Adam Laxalt (R) is up three points on Catherine Cortez Masto (D), but only 75% of the vote is reported — and the race is still considered a toss-up. In Arizona, Mark Kelly (D) is leading Blake Masters (R) by 6 points with 67% of the vote in, and Kelly is the clear favorite to close it out.

If Democrats manage to secure Arizona, that would mean they have to win just one of Nevada and Georgia to keep their Senate majority. In one likely scenario, Democrats could win Nevada and head into a December 6 runoff in Georgia between Warnock and Walker with an opportunity to gain a Senate seat and take a 51-49 majority.

The picture in the House is simultaneously both clearer and a lot messier. The New York Times needle, which operates on an algorithm taking in data from across the country, gives Republicans an 83% chance of controlling the House. The question now is just how big their majority will be. The Times needle currently estimates a 224-211 Republican majority, but the race could come down to several House seats in California and New York that may take days or even weeks to resolve.

Good news for Democrats.

If you're a Democrat, given expectations, last night was something close to a best-case scenario. Pennsylvania went blue, the House is still up for grabs, and Democrats have a very reasonable path to keeping a Senate majority and even picking up a seat.

Some of the most "Trumpy" candidates performed badly. Dr. Oz, endorsed by Trump, lost decisively in Pennsylvania. Don Bolduc, endorsed by Trump, lost handily in New Hampshire (after much hype about a potential upset). Blake Masters, endorsed by Trump, is underperforming in Arizona. In Michigan, Tudor Dixon, endorsed by Trump, lost to Gretchen Whitmer in the governor’s race. Kari Lake is losing in Arizona, though she may pull ahead late. Even Lauren Boebert, the House Representative from Colorado who was supposed to cruise to victory, is now in a dogfight to hold her seat.

Meanwhile, Democrats look like they are going to fare much better in the House than most pollsters predicted they would. Most of that is due to the strength of turnout in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and throughout the Rust Belt. In Michigan, Democrats not only defended the governorship, but flipped the state House and Senate (winning control of the state government for the first time in 40 years), defended their Supreme Court majority, won most of their House seats, and passed a measure to preserve abortion rights.

Perhaps most notably, though, is that none of the major upsets Republicans had hoped for — in governor's races in New York, Oregon and Wisconsin, or in Senate races in New Hampshire, Colorado, Arizona and Washington — have come to fruition. Right now, Oregon’s governor’s race is their best shot at an upset, but Democrat Tina Kotek is still holding onto a 1% lead over Christine Drazan with 67% of the vote reported.

Good news for Republicans.

For starters, they are still heavy favorites to take the U.S. House. That would give them an opportunity to be a bulwark against the Biden administration’s agenda, and they could stymie most of his legislative initiatives in the final two years of his presidency.

Republicans also had a great night in Florida, which is now unquestionably red. Ron DeSantis romped, beating Democrat and former Republican governor Charlie Crist by 19 points, winning Hispanic voters (57%), women (52%), suburban voters (58%) and independents (52%). He became the first Republican governor to win Miami-Dade county since Jeb Bush was re-elected in 2002. Talk of a 2024 presidential run will only grow louder after his performance last night.

Republicans also put away the races they were supposed to. J.D. Vance easily won his Senate race in Ohio, defeating former Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan (D). Ted Budd won the North Carolina seat that was vacated by the departing Richard Burr (R), holding off a strong challenge from Cheri Beasley. And Ron Johnson looks poised to win his tight Senate race in Wisconsin.

It's also worth noting that Republicans did threaten in some places they rarely do. Perhaps most notably was in New York, where Lee Zeldin (R) won 47% of the vote in the governor's race, the best showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 20 years. On top of that, Republicans look poised to unseat House Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They are also still within striking distance in Oregon’s gubernatorial race.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are criticizing Trump's endorsements and furious about a missed opportunity to get a stranglehold on Congress.
  • Some celebrate Ron DeSantis and the dominance of Republicans in Florida.
  • Others question whether Republicans will actually make use of their incoming power.

In a piece that captures the mood on the right, Isaac Schorr wrote in National Review that Republicans were "choosing to lose."

"No one forced New Hampshire Republicans to choose Don Bolduc, the spineless conspiracy theorist, as their nominee to serve in the United States Senate. But they did, and now the race has been called for incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan with less than 40 percent of the expected vote reporting," he said. "No one forced Pennsylvania Republicans to choose Doug Mastriano, a dyed-in-the-wool stop-the-stealer who attended the rally that led to the riot at the Capitol Building in January 2021, to be their gubernatorial nominee. But they did, and now not only has his race been called, but his candidacy might be the difference between Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz making Mitch McConnell majority leader again and letting Chuck Schumer hold onto the title.

"There are a number of other statewide candidates who may or may not lose winnable races — Blake Masters in Arizona and Herschel Walker in Georgia come to mind — and it appears that, while the GOP will retake the House of Representatives, it will not be by the margin it had hoped to," Schorr said. "Sometimes, events out of a party’s control condemn them to electoral losses. But oftentimes, losing is a choice, and the fact remains that in several states, Republican voters simply chose to lose."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board celebrated DeSantis's huge victory.

“Ron DeSantis was expected to win re-election as Florida Governor, but the big news Tuesday was the magnitude of his victory. His nearly 20-point rout of Democrat Charlie Crist shows the magnitude of the political change in the once-swing state and may launch the Republican’s campaign for the White House. The Governor won nearly everywhere in the state, and notably in Democratic strongholds. He won by double digits in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County, which Joe Biden carried by 85,000 votes and a statewide Republican hadn’t carried since Jeb Bush won re-election 2002. Mr. DeSantis also won Osceola County south of Orlando, which has a heavy Puerto Rican population. He even won in Democratic Palm Beach County.

"The DeSantis tide lifted other GOP candidates, as Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection handily," the board said. "The GOP also picked up two House seats, including the St. Petersburg seat Mr. Crist gave up to run for Governor. Florida has been trending to the GOP for some time, and previous two-term Governors Mr. Bush and Rick Scott did much to demonstrate effective Republican governance. But Mr. DeSantis won by fewer than 34,000 votes in 2018. He was leading Tuesday by nearly 1.5 million with 90% of the vote counted. Florida Democrats are going to have to rethink their campaigns in the state."

In The Federalist, Christopher Bedford asked if Republicans would make use of their power in the House.

"Will they halt the president’s extremely successful judicial nomination record? Halt it completely, without exception?" Bedford asked. "Will they ask where the billions in dollars and arms going to Ukraine ended up, or just keep sleepwalking toward a nuclear standoff? Will they claw back the IRS’s newfound funds, or leave their tens of thousands of new agents on the job? Will they continue to send $45 billion to America’s hard-left universities without a word of objection, as they have for years? Will they demand funding for a wall, end funding toward abortions here and abroad, and refuse to confirm ambassadors and other posts devoted to spreading the left’s culture war to Vatican City and further abroad?

"Will they break up the Big Tech companies who wield their power to control the flow of information to voters? Or on all these issues, will they just tinker around the edges and go on Fox News to crow about it?" he asked. "Conservatives have been losing for about a century now, and at this point rightly find little to conserve. If this will change any at all, they’ll need to think of themselves not as conservatives, but as revolutionaries. If they’re going to make a difference, they might as well: They’ll be up against a powerful executive, its sprawling army of lifelong employees, its allies in the intelligence agencies, Pentagon, corporate media, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and beyond."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is celebrating the results, arguing that the red wave never materialized and emphasizing Democrats’ good chances to hold the Senate.
  • Some wonder if Republicans will deny how poorly they performed or finally acknowledge the strength of Democrats.
  • Others are hammering the "liberal media" for concocting a red wave that didn't exist.

In The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty said the expected red wave "looks like a puddle."

"Political forecasters had it wrong. Again," she said. "Although votes are still being counted in many of the most closely watched races, with control of the House and Senate unclear, it is already apparent that the expected Great Red Wave of 2022 turned out to be a messy puddle. Yes, the most powerful winds all seemed to be blowing the GOP’s way: The curse of history that says a first-term president gets a comeuppance in the midterms, President Biden’s listless approval rating, roaring inflation, an economy that appears to be on the edge of recession, an alarming crime rate, record numbers of migrants coming over the border.

"But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had it right back in August, when he said that, especially in Senate races, 'candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.' By Wednesday morning, only one Senate seat had flipped, and that was in the direction of the Democrats, with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, despite suffering a serious stroke, beating celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz," she wrote. "Voters, it would appear, saw this midterm as something more than a referendum on the party in power; with Republicans putting forward a host of extreme, election-denying candidates and little by way of an agenda, it became a choice between two drastically different paths forward. And while abortion was not the silver bullet that some Democrats had thought it might be, it helped."

In Slate, Jim Newell asked if Republicans will pretend like they won or acknowledge reality?

"As more states rolled in, it was clear Republicans would not have the night of their dreams," Newell wrote. "Democrats kept two of the three Virginia House seats they were monitoring as potential defections in a red wave. They held a crucial Rhode Island House seat that Republicans had targeted. Democrats won five out of Ohio’s fifteen districts, when they feared they might only win two under Republicans’ gerrymandered map. Democrats would go on to hold toss-ups in reddening South Texas, both of New Hampshire’s House seats, and knock off [Bo Hines] one of Donald Trump’s prized recruits in North Carolina. By the time McCarthy spoke [at 1:57 a.m. EST] to say that Republicans would win, in fact, there was still a chance that Nancy Pelosi might retain the speaker’s gavel.

"In the Senate, the outer perimeter of races Republicans thought they might have a chance at winning under wave-like conditions—Colorado, New Hampshire, and Washington—weren’t even close. Republican J.D. Vance did win in Ohio, and Republican Rep. Ted Budd defeated Cheri Beasley in North Carolina. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson was narrowly but consistently leading over Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin, a hold the Republicans ultimately will need to have any shot at taking the Senate," Newell wrote. "Democratic governors won reelection in three crucial swing states that could be determinative in a 2024 presidential race—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—and took back control in Maryland and Massachusetts after eight years of Republican governors."

In The New Republic, Michael Tomasky criticized the liberal media for what it got wrong about the midterms.

"Exit polls should be taken with a grain of salt these days, but they’re all we have, and they show that the media got four main narratives really, really wrong. Independents and moderates backed Democrats. It was close, maybe within the margin of error, but in the two exit polls conducted, Democrats won. The network exit poll by Edison Research gave Democrats a 49–47 advantage, while the AP’s survey had Democrats up 39–35 (with a large undecided)," Tomasky wrote. "Abortion mattered after all. It became conventional wisdom in early-to-mid October that Dobbs wasn’t an issue anymore and that Democrats had made a crushing mistake by spending all that TV ad money on abortion. No one cared.

"Well, the network poll (Edison) had inflation the number one issue at 31 percent but abortion a close second at 27 percent," he said. "Latinos did not abandon the Democratic Party. This was a whopper. In the mainstream media, Latinos had basically become Republican. They hated abortion, all manifestations of wokery, many were evangelical, and on and on and on. The network poll had Latinos going Democratic 60–39, and in the AP poll it was 56–38... Joe Biden was not a huge albatross around Democrats’ neck. He was underwater on approval in the exits, and he perhaps didn’t help in some races, but he sure didn’t drag Democrats down the way so many in the media predicted."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

Welp, this is why I so rarely make predictions.

For starters, a mea culpa: I tried to read the tea leaves and I missed. I was quite confident that Oz would win in Pennsylvania and I suspected historical trends would prevail — pointing to a Republican blowout. I'll take some credit for hedging a little bit yesterday when I wrote the following (emphasis mine):

This election does not seem particularly complicated to me. It's a midterm election, inflation is high, Biden's approval ratings are low, and Democrats are likely to lose a lot of House seats and probably the Senate, too. Historically, the party in the White House loses 28 House seats and four Senate seats, on average. Democrats' saving grace is that in several of the most important Senate races, there are Republican candidates that appeal strongly to base voters on the right but have very high disapproval ratings among moderates and independents. It's possible that saves them a Senate majority, but I think it is unlikely.

There are going to be weeks of navel gazing and post-mortems to try to understand what is happening right now, but here are my first impressions:

For starters, it's a terrible night for Republicans. I don't know how else to frame it honestly. Your opportunities to face a disliked president with historic inflation in a midterm season where control of the Senate is possible and a House route is likely only come around every so often — and Republicans simply missed their chance. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was confidently predicting Republicans would pick up 60 seats in the House. At this rate they'll be lucky to snag 15.

The picture in the Senate is far worse. Kelly is outrunning Masters in Arizona, and there are a lot of mail-in ballots still coming. Nevada is a jump ball, but even if Democrats lose they will probably come out of the gates as favorites in a Georgia runoff to retain control. In the Senate races, there is zero doubt you'd rather be in Democrats’ shoes than Republicans’.

Of course, the results are to say nothing of the mess this will cause in intra-party squabbles on the right. Donald Trump is already being blamed by longtime allies for pushing weak candidates, and Fox News is running headlines like "Conservatives point finger at Trump after GOP's underwhelming election loss: 'He's never been weaker.'"

Not only will there now be a battle over who is actually leading the party — DeSantis, McConnell, or Trump — but there is going to be a dogfight over the speaker's gavel if Republicans do take the majority in the House. McCarthy was banking on a blowout to secure his spot. With the majority so thin, though, he is going to face stiff challenges from the right, and the ensuing battles could divide the party even further.

Remember: 24 hours ago, we were wondering if New York might go red or whether Democrats could manage to hold onto 48 seats in the Senate. None of those things came to fruition. As of this writing, Republicans haven't pulled off a single major upset in the Senate or gubernatorial races, and Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona all look like they are moving left, not right.

So how did everyone get it so wrong? One good theory was floated in the pages of Tangle a couple of weeks ago and now looks prescient: Junk polls. After 2016 and 2020, pollsters were trying desperately to fix their problem of undercounting support for Trump and politicians like him. This cycle, one way they did that was by including polling averages from places like the Trafalgar Group, who have a well known right-wing bias. Those polls were way, way off.

One example: Trafalgar’s polling on the Washington Senate race between Patty Murray (D) and Tiffany Smiley (R) had Murray leading by only 1.2%. She won by 15%.

Including polls like that in the averages made a lot of elections look much closer than they really were, and left pollsters, reporters and pundits like me blindsided by the results.

As I said yesterday, there was only one person I saw who was bucking the narrative, and that was Simon Rosenberg of the progressive group NDN. Rosenberg’s final midterm update — "I'd rather be us than them" — was uniquely bullish on Democrats, and is the closest I’ve seen to someone accurately predicting what we appear to be witnessing right now. I said I’d give him kudos if things panned out that way, so consider this my acknowledgement.

Of course, there were a lot of other things pundits (including me) got wrong. For starters, Democratic turnout was also severely undershot. That races like the Senate battle in Pennsylvania — which some election officials thought could take days to resolve — were called last night is reflective of how many voters in blue areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh swarmed to the polls. It was over shortly after midnight, and once we had the first results it was never really close. Fetterman outperformed Biden basically everywhere. Additionally, the results came in pretty fast.

I was also surprised to see that mail-in votes were actually released first in Pennsylvania, bucking expectations of a long count that would work against a “red mirage.” That was true in Wisconsin, too, which got its results out much faster than election workers said they would. And, perhaps because of this, we saw very few allegations of fraud or election malfeasance.

The one notable example was in Maricopa County, where tabulation machines were malfunctioning early Tuesday, leaning to some on the right calling for criminal indictments and trials. But the issue was mostly a nothingburger, got resolved quickly, and the Republicans running the election there communicated clearly about what the issue was and how voters could navigate it.

There is still much to be resolved. Georgia is in runoff territory, which would mean an early December redo. Nevada has no clear winner. It looks like Democrats are in a strong position in Arizona's Senate race. And dozens of House races in states that will be counting mail-in votes for a few days are going to take some time to resolve.

But right now, one thing is clear: The punditry missed, badly. And so did Republicans.


In every election, there are some key races and "firsts" that are worth noting. Even though many results are still incoming from 2022, last night had a number of historically significant outcomes, and a few closely watched races have been decided.

  • In Alaska, Mary Peltola (D) is poised to defeat Sarah Palin (R) in their much-watched ranked-choice voting House race.
  • John Gibbs, who was endorsed by Trump and defeated Republican Peter Meijer in Michigan's primary (Meijer was one of 10 Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment), lost his House race to Democrat Hillary Scholten.
  • Wes Moore (D) became Maryland's first Black governor, and the third Black governor in U.S. history.
  • Katie Britt (R) became Alabama's first woman to be elected to the Senate.
  • Maura Healey (D) will become Massachusetts’ first female governor and the nation's first out lesbian who is a state chief executive.
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), the former Trump press secretary, will become the first female governor of Arkansas, and Leslie Rutledge will become the state's first woman to be elected lieutenant governor.
  • Maxwell Frost (D) won Florida's 10th District, becoming the first member of Gen Z to get elected to Congress. He is 25 years old.
  • Alex Padilla (D) will become the first elected Latino senator from California.
  • Shri Thanedar (D) will become the first Indian American elected to Congress from Michigan.
  • Kathy Hochul (D) will become the first elected female governor of New York.
  • Mary Kaptur (D-OH) won her 21st term in the House, making her the longest-serving woman in Congress (she was first elected in 1982).
  • Markwane Mullin (R) will become the first Native American senator from Oklahoma in nearly 100 years.
  • Summer Lee (D) will become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.
  • James Moylan is the first Republican elected as Guam’s non-voting Congressional member.
  • George Santos from New York is the first openly gay Republican to win an election for Congress.
  • Robert Menendez Jr. and Robert Menendez of New Jersey became the first father-son duo in Congress since Rand and Ron Paul.

Quick hits.

  1. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky said he would be open to negotiations with Russia, under the conditions Ukraine's sovereignty was acknowledged and some land was returned. (The plan)
  2. Brittney Griner, the WNBA star currently being held in a Russian prison, was reportedly moved to a penal colony. (The move)
  3. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is laying off 11,000 employees. (The layoffs)
  4. A judge dismissed Alexander Vindman's lawsuits against Trump and his allies. Vindman alleged they conspired to intimidate him over his testimony in Trump's impeachment hearing. (The dismissal)
  5. Tropical Storm Nicole is expected to strengthen to a hurricane today as it bears down on the Bahamas and Florida's eastern coast, where evacuations have already been ordered. (The forecast)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's newsletter is pretty long, so there is a lot we need to save for tomorrow. We'll be back with updates on all the results we get later today, a list of some more notable election outcomes, significant ballot initiative results, and an update on allegations of fraud in Arizona. In the meantime, if you want to support our election coverage, please consider dropping something in the tip jar or (if you aren't yet) becoming a Tangle member.

And hey — if you have an election result or story you think I should know about, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

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