What "red wave"? Democrats on the verge of major November surprise

Outcome for Democrats vastly better than predicted: They're poised to win major seats in Pennsylvania, Arizona

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor
Published November 8, 2022 10:40PM (EST)
Updated November 9, 2022 8:54AM (EST)
Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate John Fetterman holds a rally at Nether Providence Elementary School on October 15, 2022 in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate John Fetterman holds a rally at Nether Providence Elementary School on October 15, 2022 in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Republicans may well end up with a narrow House majority in the midterm elections, based on Tuesday night's returns. But they are nowhere near the "red wave" or "red tsunami" they were hoping for. Once again, it appears the pollsters and analysts got it wrong.

To this point, the battle for the U.S. Senate remains undecided, but Democrats are poised to win several major races. In perhaps the biggest news of the night, it appears that Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has won that state's open seat, defeating Trump-endorsed Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The midterms will determine which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as dozens of governors' mansions and state legislatures. Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to regain control of the House, and still seem likely to get that. But they could wind up with an exceedingly narrow majority, akin to the one Democrats hold in the current Congress.

It may take days to determine the precise makeup of the new Congress, but to this point the major surprise of these midterms is that Democrats are well positioned to hold their Senate majority — and seem likely to defeat a number of prominent Republicans closely tied to Donald Trump.

Fetterman's apparent win in Pennsylvania is a massive pickup for Democrats in a seat currently held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona is leading another pro-Trump Republican, Blake Masters, with about half the votes counted, and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire has easily defeated Republican Don Bolduc, a booster of Trump's Big Lie. With those apparent or projected Democratic victories, it will be very difficult for Republicans to win a Senate majority.

Another tightly contested race, between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and former NFL star Herschel Walker, another Trump-allied Republican, is likely to end almost dead even. Assuming that neither candidate clears 50%, that will require a runoff on Dec. 6. Republicans have held onto open Senate seats in North Carolina and Ohio, and incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson appears headed toward a narrow victory in Wisconsin. Control of the Senate may be decided by the race in Nevada between incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt, with early results on Wednesday morning narrowly favoring Cortez Masto.

One undecided race that could lead to post-election fireworks is the gubernatorial contest in Arizona, where Democrat Katie Hobbs holds a lead over Republican Kari Lake early on Wednesday morning. Almost as soon as those early returns were announced, Lake appeared at her campaign headquarters to promise eventual victory, while suggesting that the Arizona election had been plagued by incompetence and corruption. She is a forceful supporter of Donald Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud in 2020, and has said she is unlikely to concede if she loses.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a frequent target of Republican anger, easily defeated her Trump-endorsed opponent. Somewhat more surprisingly, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, who was believed to face an extremely tight race against Republican Tim Michels, holds the lead with better than 93% of votes counted.

Historically, the sitting president's party fares poorly in the midterms, and numerous pre-election polls appeared to show Republicans surging in the final days of the campaign as a large majority of voters disapproves of President Joe Biden's performance. But in evaluating the vote count on Tuesday evening, New York Times election analyst Nate Cohn wrote on Twitter that "Democrats are running about a point ahead of our expectations outside of Florida, with the GOP lead in the House starting to come down a bit. Not many signs of a red wave at this point."

After a muddled fall campaign, American voters appear to be delivering a mixed verdict. Democrats briefly hoped for outright victory as their poll numbers improved over the summer after the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Those numbers appeared to collapse down the stretch as Republicans relentlessly attacked on their signature issues of crime, inflation and immigration. But it now appears that the abortion issue may have been a major factor after all, driving women voters to the polls in several battleground states.

Early on Wednesday morning, the infamous New York Times election needle gives Republicans better than a 70% chance of capturing the House — but slightly favors Democrats in the Senate.

"Definitely not a red wave, that's for darn sure," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an interview with NBC News.

Here's what we know so far:


The most important races in deciding the Senate majority were in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Several of those may not be decided until Wednesday or later. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is leading Democrat Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin but the race remains too early to call. The Georgia race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker is deadlocked and appears likely to go to a runoff. 

Republican J.D. Vance is projected to defeat Rep. Tim Ryan in the race to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., is projected to defeat Democrat Cheri Beasley to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., is projected to defeat election denier Don Bolduc in a race that tightened up in recent weeks.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is projected to easily defeat Rep. Val Demings, securing his third term in Congress, according to the Associated Press.

Republican Katie Britt is projected to win the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Republican Markwayne Mullin is projected to win the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. Republican Eric Schmitt is projected to win the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Incumbent Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Todd Young, R-Ind.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; John Kennedy, R-La.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; and John Thune, R-S.D. are all projected to easily win re-election.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is projected to win the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are all projected to easily win re-election.


Democrats have picked up two seats so far from Republicans.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is projected to cruise to a re-election victory over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, the state's former governor. DeSantis has been widely discussed as a potential 2024 presidential contender and raised over $200 million during his campaign. DeSantis was greeted by supporters at his victory party with chants of "two more years," an apparent nod to his White House aspirations.

Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump White House press secretary, is projected to easily win the Arkansas gubernatorial race. Her father, Mike Huckabee, previously served as the state's governor.

Democrat Wes Moore is projected to defeat MAGA Republican Dan Cox in Maryland, becoming the state's first Black governor and replacing Republican Larry Hogan.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is projected to easily win the state's gubernatorial race, becoming the first openly lesbian governor elected in the U.S.

Democrat Daniel McKee is projected to easily defeat Republican Ashley Kalus in Rhode Island.

Democrat Josh Shapiro is expected to defeat Republican Doug Mastriano, a Jan. 6 rally attendee. The race has been called by other networks but has not yet been called by the AP.

Republican Govs. Kay Ivey (Ala.), Brad Little (Idaho), Kim Reynolds (Iowa), Chris Sununu (N.H.), Kevin Stitt (Okla.), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Henry McMaster (S.C.), Kristi Noem (S.D.), Bill Lee (Tenn.), Greg Abbott (Texas), Phil Scott (Vt.) and Mark Gordon (Wyo.) are projected to win re-election.

Democratic Govs. Gavin Newsom (Calif.), Jared Polis (Colo.), J.B. Pritzker (Ill.) and Tim Walz (Minn.) are projected to win re-election.

Notable races:

Rep. Virginia Spanberger, D-Va., defeated Republican challenger Yesli Vega in Virginia's 7th District, a key bellwether race. But Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, lost another key bellwether race in the state, losing 2nd District to Republican Jen Kiggans.

Democrat Maxwell Frost is projected to win Florida's 10th congressional district, becoming the first Gen Z member to reach the House.

Maryland voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Voting rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have spent months warning that democracy is on the ballot in the midterms. More than half of Republican candidates running across the country have denied or questioned the 2020 election results even though former President Donald Trump and fellow conspiracy theorists have offered no evidence to show wide-scale fraud or election rigging that could have influenced the outcome. Some congressional candidates have suggested they would not vote to certify presidential election results. Republicans like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem have also suggested they may not certify the 2024 election results — and may not concede defeat if they lose. Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, who has even suggested he may try to "decertify" the 2020 results, vowed earlier this month that "Republicans will never lose another election" if he wins.

Republicans launched a barrage of pre-election lawsuits seeking to disqualify some mail-in ballots, particularly targeting diverse Democratic-leaning areas like Philadelphia and Detroit. Some of those suits were already rejected, including a lawsuit by Michigan GOP secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo seeking to throw out 60,000 ballots in Detroit. But Republicans were successful in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that set aside an unknown number of mail-in ballots with missing dates on the outer envelope and the Philadelphia City Commission said that the counting of thousands of ballots would be delayed in response to a right-wing lawsuit.

Republicans have also stoked fears about potential irregularities. Trump and other Republicans pushed conspiracy theories after about 20% of voting locations in Maricopa County reported problems with their tabulators, though all voters were allowed to cast ballots and the issue was fixed later in the day.

"Can this possibly be true when a vast majority of Republicans waited for today to Vote?" Trump wrote on Truth Social, after he and other conspiracy theorists urged supporters to wait until Election Day to vote. "Here we go again?"

Republicans including Lake later filed a lawsuit to extend voting times in Maricopa County by three hours but were rejected by a judge.

It may take days for the results to be finalized in certain states, in some cases because Republican lawmakers barred election workers from counting mail ballots until polls open on Election Day. Counting the votes may take several days Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, and late mail-in votes may mean that the California count could take weeks.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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