Nov 14, 2022

Democrats win the Senate.

Democrat Chuck Schumer will remain Senate majority leader. Photo: Gregory Hauenstein / Flickr
Democrat Chuck Schumer will remain Senate majority leader. Photo: Gregory Hauenstein / Flickr

And Republicans look poised to win a narrow House majority.

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: 11 minutes.

We're covering the results from the 2022 midterms, including Democrats officially taking the Senate. Plus, a question about why some results take so long to come in, and an important under the radar story about Taiwan.

Quick hits.

  1. U.S. inflation slowed more than forecasters expected, rising 7.7% in October from a year ago, while the core consumer price index increased 0.3% from the prior month. The stock market rallied on the news. (The numbers)
  2. A federal judge in Texas ruled that President Biden's plan to erase student loan debt was unlawful, throwing its future into question. The education department is suspending student debt relief applications. (The block)
  3. Ukrainian forces reclaimed the southern port city Kherson after Russian forces vacated the territory. (The reclamation)
  4. Chris Magnus, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is being forced out of the agency as record levels of migrants continue to enter the U.S. from Mexico. (The border)
  5. President Biden is with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali on Monday. (The meeting)

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 topic.

The Senate. On Saturday night, Catherine Cortez Masto (D) defeated Adam Laxalt (R) in Nevada's Senate race, assuring Democrats 50 seats and a Senate majority for the next two years. The victory means Democrats will head into the December 6 runoff in Georgia’s Senate race with an opportunity to gain a seat in a midterm election where they were widely expected to lose their majority.

Nearly a week after election night, the race for the House majority is still too close to call, though Democrats would have to win all five remaining toss-up seats to retain the majority.

By retaining control of the Senate with an opportunity to pick up a seat in December, and keeping the House race so competitive, Democrats can boast the strongest midterm showing in two decades for a party holding the White House. Party leaders and strategists have credited the fall of Roe v. Wade and the unpopularity of former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidates for galvanizing their base and attracting moderates, while also pointing to critical strategic decisions about which races to invest in for their surprising success (we'll be doing a post-mortem on the midterms in this week's Friday edition).

Along with winning a Senate majority and mitigating potential losses in the House, Democrats also won several key swing-state gubernatorial races, assuring executive control in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The governor's race in Arizona is still too close to call, however, and one notable defeat came in Georgia, where Republican Brian Kemp easily defeated Stacey Abrams. Meanwhile, numerous Republican candidates running for secretary of state positions in swing states who questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election have all lost. None, so far, have refused to concede or openly questioned the results.

Today, we're going to explore some reactions from the left and right to the latest results, then my take. You can find all our previous midterm coverage here.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left celebrate the victory, and point to abortion and concern for democracy as the major reasons Democrats performed so well.
  • Some celebrated Republicans like Liz Cheney who broke from their party and endorsed Democrats.
  • Others emphasized Democrats’ successful legislative agenda and said they should keep pushing for more progressive programs.

In The New York Times, Lisa Lerer emphasized abortion as the reason Democrats prevailed.

"Support for abortion rights now appears to be one of the big reasons Democrats defied history and staved off deep midterm losses," she said. "Democratic campaigns invested more heavily in abortion rights than any other topic, riding a wave of anger after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. In total, Democrats and their allies spent nearly half a billion dollars on ads mentioning abortion — more than twice what they spent on crime, and eight times as much as Republicans spent on abortion, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. In Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and elsewhere, abortion rights emerged as a driving force in the midterm elections, helping Democrats win ballot measures, governor’s races and House seats.

“In several states where the future of abortion rights rested on the outcomes of state legislative and governor’s races, voters said the issue was pivotal, according to exit polls conducted by TV networks and Edison Research,” Lerer wrote. “In Pennsylvania, abortion overtook the economy as the top issue on voters’ minds. Democrats there won a Senate race, critical to their hopes of maintaining a Senate majority, as well as the governor’s mansion, and they seemed poised to flip control of the State House of Representatives. In Michigan, where nearly half of voters said abortion was their top issue, Democrats won both chambers of the Legislature and re-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, giving the party a trifecta of power for the first time in 40 years.”

Jacob Gardenswartz said there were two winners in this election: democracy and Liz Cheney.

“Democrats were most successful in the races where they clearly and consistently articulated the threat of Republican authoritarianism: John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Gretchen Whitmer and Jocelyn Benson in Michigan, Tony Evers in Wisconsin, Steve Simon in Minnesota, and Maggie Toulouse Oliver in New Mexico,” Gardenswartz said. “Each emerged victorious against GOP challengers who denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election. In exit polls, nearly eight in 10 voters said they felt ‘confident’ in the fairness and accuracy of elections, with 68 percent indicating that they felt democracy was under attack.

“And in several key races, Democrats relied on an unlikely messenger to hammer home the message of their opponents’ extremism: outgoing Republican Representative Liz Cheney,” Gardenswartz said. “Cheney, vice chair of the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, has become something of a crusader against Trump and others in her party who continue to push falsehoods about 2020. A week before the election, she went so far as to endorse and campaign for several Democrats facing election deniers as opponent[s]... if Democrats learn anything from Tuesday, it’s that they should lean more into pro-democracy messages that plainly lay out the stakes if GOP election deniers take charge… Support for abortion rights now appears to be one of the big reasons Democrats defied history and staved off deep midterm losses.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said Democrats won on the backs of negotiating Medicare, infrastructure bills, capping insulin costs, taxing corporations, and canceling student debt — and now it’s time to do more.

"A few lobbyist-friendly Democrats in our own party blocked much of the president’s agenda for working families. They torpedoed the president’s plan to reverse the Trump tax giveaways. They blocked proposals to cut skyrocketing housing and child care costs,” Warren wrote. “They thwarted efforts to fight corruption, end gerrymandering, defend democracy and protect abortion rights. If these Democrats had listened to voters instead of special interests, we would be in an even stronger electoral position today because we would have delivered even more for Americans... Americans understand that the economic well-being of families is inextricably linked to democracy and to individual rights, even if too many cable news gurus do not.

“A majority of Americans know that abortion is a kitchen-table issue that is central to both health and economic security, not a distraction. Americans understand that prices are rising in part because of corporate greed, and want a government on their side. Tuesday’s results confirmed those views: across America, every ballot initiative to protect abortion rights passed, along with many proposals to tax the wealthy and put money in workers’ pockets,” Warren said. “The so-called experts who called Democrats’ messaging incoherent were just plain wrong — and candidates who ignored their advice won. John Fetterman embraced populist economic policies and called out corporate greed, and won. Raphael Warnock took a central role in urging the president to cancel student debt, and is strongly positioned to win in Georgia. Many Democratic candidates leaned hard into protecting abortion rights and democracy while also aggressively supporting popular economic plans.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided about the results, with some blaming Trump and others blaming establishment Republicans.
  • Some argue that there is still a path forward for a strong 2024 cycle for Republicans.
  • Others are celebrating Republican gains in states like New York.

In The Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt said the path to a successful 2024 for Republicans hasn't changed.

"Right now, Republicans are overcorrecting to deep disappointment, and of course there are recriminations, egged on by Blue Bubble media and Democratic activists who would love to see a GOP civil war," Hewitt wrote. "What ought to matter to Constitution-first conservatives is that the House, as of Sunday morning, is still more likely than not to go Republican and, if it does, the GOP can (1) set up a select committee on China and (2) attend to a depleted Pentagon budget while (3) conducting vigorous oversight of federal agencies that are failing, especially Homeland Security. A small majority can do these things, and they matter, both on the substance and with voters. Go that way. And put hard votes in front of the Democrats while standing as a wall against the excesses of the past two years.

"On the Senate side, every 10 years like clockwork the GOP forgets that candidates who win primaries are sometimes too far to the right for the general. Republicans cannot wish away independents who do not want abortion rights ended, only limited. They cannot wish away young voters. The Buckley Rule abides: Nominate the most conservative candidate who can win. The Republicans didn’t. McConnell warned them, but he did his part for those who were viable — J.D. Vance in Ohio (successfully) and Adam Laxalt in Nevada (the most disappointing loss of the election)," Hewitt said. "In the closely divided chamber, the GOP should stick with the guy who had the guts and acumen to do what it took to secure a conservative Supreme Court majority. The Senate Republicans, whether they total 49 or 50, will remain a check on the administration. Let the battle-tested McConnell chart the course to a last, legacy-burnishing turn at Senate majority leadership [in 2024]."

In The Federalist, Tristan Justice wrote the case against Mitch McConnell for Senate leader.

"McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, went on to gut desperately needed campaign cash from conservative candidates in Arizona and New Hampshire who refused to kiss the ring of Washington monarchs," Justice said. "In Arizona, McConnell axed $18 million from the race where Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters sought to bring down a well-funded Democrat incumbent. While the Masters race remains too close to call, Gen. Don Bolduc in New Hampshire was comfortably defeated by Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan, who captured a second term despite multiple polls showing the Republican within the margins of error. Bolduc was similarly abandoned by the GOP leader with $5.6 million cut from the contest. Both Bolduc and Masters signaled support for another candidate to lead the Senate conference if elected to the upper chamber.

"McConnell took money from the competitive pick-up contests and redirected resources into Alaska and Colorado, the former featuring a race between two Republicans and the latter featuring a candidate who alienated the base," he wrote. "Alienating the base, however, has become routine practice for McConnell, who boasts a lower favorability rating than President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In other words, McConnell is the most unpopular politician in the country, a fact Democrats used to their advantage in this election cycle by villainizing McConnell as the new GOP 'boogeyman.'... In Alaska, McConnell’s PAC spent more than $6 million to boost Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski over the state party’s endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka... Meanwhile in Colorado, Republican construction executive Joe O’Dea, who benefitted from $1.25 million of McConnell’s money, lost by 11 points with 88 percent of precincts reporting."

In The New York Post, newly elected Mike Lawler celebrated the "real" red wave in New York — and how Republicans can build on it.

"New Yorkers are getting sick and tired of woke liberalism, and it’s showing in pockets of voters once considered the base of the Democratic Party," Lawler said. "In short, there’s a crack in the traditional Democrat coalition, and Republicans have an enormous opportunity to expand that breach with time-tested arguments in the coming months and years. In the Hudson Valley, where I prevailed on Election Night over Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chairman Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney — the first time in 42 years that a DCCC chairman lost re-election — voters once considered unreachable by Republicans were an essential part of my victory. Latino, Asian, Jewish, and a growing number of African-American voters rejected woke orthodoxy and all that comes with it.

"In Southeast Brooklyn, one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country, voters toppled three long-term incumbent Democrat state Assembly members, something that would have been unimaginable a couple of years ago. In areas of Queens, the same thing is occurring. First- and second- generation Americans are embracing the conservative ethos of hard work and personal responsibility over failed big-government liberalism... A great deal of credit goes to Congressman Lee Zeldin for running a smart, focused, and passionate anti-crime campaign in his narrow defeat last Tuesday," he said. "Of all the places where a red wave could have crested, few would have guessed it would have been here in New York, where Republicans will send as many as 11 new members of Congress to Washington, and a number of new state senators and assembly members to Albany. With hard work and compassionate outreach, this could just be the ­beginning."

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.

  • There are a lot of reasons for Democrats success, but abortion is probably #1.
  • It's hard to imagine Republicans winning the final seat in Georgia.
  • This midterm has played out very unevenly from state to state.

Welp, it sure wasn't what I originally expected.

As I said on Wednesday, I thought the odds of Democrats pulling off a Senate hold were pretty good based on everything we saw in the first 24 hours — and they now have a majority locked in. But I certainly didn't imagine this outcome a week ago.

I suspect that Democrats will end up picking up a seat by winning the runoff in Georgia, where there are three obstacles facing Republicans: 1) Why dump obscene amounts of money into a Senate race for a single seat that won't change the majority, especially when the Senate map looks so bad for Democrats in 2024? Sure, you want the seat locked down for six years, but it seems to me Republican donors will be far less motivated than Democrats, who could make either Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) or Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) irrelevant. How do you motivate Republican voters to come out when they understand it may not make a huge difference?

2) When Trump announces he is running for office, which he seems primed to do tomorrow, Democrats will be even more highly motivated to turn out.

3) Most crucially, Walker is clearly a weak candidate. Other Republicans running for state offices in Georgia cleaned house, and margins suggest that voters there have concerns about Walker — otherwise he would have kept pace with them. I have a hard time seeing how Republicans manage to get the vote out, or whether they'll be as motivated as Democrats to fundraise and pour money into the race.

As for the why of what just happened — I'll talk about that more in this week's Friday edition, and I think we still need to get all the results and data in. But based on the evidence we have so far — more than threats to democracy or gerrymandering or Trump’s drag on the party or concerns about crime — the issue of abortion rights seems to have had the most outsized impact on the midterms. I’m sure these other factors played a part, and candidate quality was an issue, too: Mehmet Oz was a carpetbagger, Blake Masters wasn't experienced or well funded, Adam Laxalt was unable to navigate the abortion issue, and Herschel Walker was, well, Herschel Walker.

Still, it was a great week for democracy. Not because of who won and lost, but because of how they won and lost. None of the predictions about waves of people refusing to concede, violence in the streets, or widespread distrust in the results came to fruition. Candidates are losing, admitting they lost, and going quietly. Which surprised me. The fact that I was surprised makes me think I might have been consuming too much left-wing content around the threats to democracy in this upcoming election, which is a piece of self-reflection I left with. I was also glad to see that it's a bad campaign strategy to deny the results of a previous election, given how poorly all those candidates fared. One imagines telling voters elections are rigged may not be a great way to get them to actually vote.

It's a welcome development for a country that relies on peaceful transfers of power to function. No peals of protest like we had in 2020, and very few calls of voter suppression like the ones that echoed from Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Despite some skepticism Americans have about how our elections work, the vast majority seem (for now) comfortable with the outcomes in the 2022 midterms. It has been a long time since I could say that about an election.

What’s even more fascinating about 2022 is just how different the election appears depending on where you look. In New York, Oregon and Florida, Republicans did clean Democrats’ clock with issues like crime or inflation or “anti-woke” rhetoric. Yet in states like Pennsylvania or Michigan, where conditions seemed favorable for major Democratic losses, the opposite happened. Despite the nationalization of our politics, this was a very uneven primary election.

The House majority obviously still matters, and it's currently on a knife's edge. But, as was true last week, Republicans still have the inside track. I don't see that changing.

One thing you can bet on, though, is that the House will be a mess. Republicans are going to have an ugly battle over leadership positions. Even if they win a majority, it'll be a small one, which gives outsized power to individual members, which creates chaos and infighting.

Republicans are also going to be welcoming several new House members from New York and California, who are not going to vote consistently with House Republican leadership. Many of them will need to appease voters in purple districts. In simple terms: It's going to be a nearly impossible group to wrangle.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why do election results take so long now?

— Sam from southern California

Tangle: For starters, they don't take this long everywhere. Elections in several highly-watched states, like Florida and Pennsylvania, basically had results for us on the night of the election. That is due in part to the races there not being very close. To be sure, tight races make ensuring you know who is the winner a little more time-consuming, and I'd put that at the top of the list of reasons why a vote count may go on for days or even weeks.

The other reason is that states now have very different ways of conducting elections. One of the big distinctions between states, especially now, are those that process absentee and mail-in ballots before election day vs. those that process them on election day. Then, there are the states who allow those ballots to arrive in the days after election day and still count them. Which means you have to wait for all those votes to arrive in the mail before you begin processing and counting them. Many races that have been called are still processing overseas absentee and military ballots — it’s the ones in states that are both still processing these votes and are very competitive that are lasting so long.

What I often tell people is that the time it takes to count votes is usually a tradeoff between access and security. If you want to count votes as fast as possible, you have to make voting less accessible and less secure. If you want to make voting as accessible and secure as possible, you are generally going to end up with a much longer process: You'll get more votes via mail, more votes that are going to be counted even if they show up late, and in order to keep elections secure you'll have to do a lot of double-checking, processing, and ballot curing ( helping machines process votes that are illegible to the machine or reaching out to voters to fix ballots that weren't filled out properly).

This article has a good breakdown of why counting votes takes so long in California.

The good news is, we know where to look for answers. While Florida benefitted from not-very-close elections in 2022, they also have a superior system. They've made voting early easy and give anyone a take-home ballot who requests it. They start counting early votes when they come in, and they've standardized the system with 100% paper ballots. Nine million of the 11 million 2020 votes in Florida were cast early, there were basically zero issues, and we had reliable results on election night. Nationalized politics has driven Florida to make some unfortunate changes to the system that worked so well in 2020, but it still looked very good in 2022.

To me, allowing states to expand take-home voting and to start processing and counting those votes before Election Day are simple reforms worth implementing. But it'll require individual states following Florida’s lead for something like that to happen.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Congress is now deliberating on how to fund an unprecedented package of billions of dollars of military assistance to Taiwan in anticipation of a potential Chinese invasion of the island, according to The Washington Post. With Biden and China’s Xi Jinping set to meet in Bali on Monday, members of Congress are considering dipping into our own stocks of weapons and providing them to Taiwan through the foreign military financing program paid for by the United States. The idea would be to transfer weapons to Taiwan in a manner similar to the way the U.S. did for Ukraine, but before any potential attack. The Washington Post has the story about the controversial negotiations.


  • 101 million. The number of people who voted in U.S. House races.
  • 52.2 million. The number of votes for Republicans, as of 10pm EST on Sunday night.
  • 47.2 million. The number of votes for Democrats, as of 10pm EST on Sunday night.
  • ~35,000. The margin of Raphael Warnock’s (D) lead over Herschel Walker (R) in Georgia's Senate race, which is now headed to a runoff.
  • ~300,000. The margin of Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) victory over Stacey Abrams (D) in Georgia's gubernatorial race.
  • 1934. The last time that a president's party maintained control of all the state legislatures where they previously had a majority, which Democrats did in this election.

Have a nice day.

A 14-year-old inventor in San Diego has won a prize for coming up with Finsen Headphones, which use blue light therapy to detect and treat mid-ear infections. Leanne Fan says the low-cost option can treat a problem that impacts 700 million people worldwide and causes 21,000 deaths a year. She also believes her invention could reduce post-infection hearing loss by up to 60% in children. The invention took home the top prize in the 2022 3M Young Scientist challenge. The Week has the story.

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