In this post-election edition, we look at key counties to explain why the red wave crashed, preview ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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In this post-election edition, we look at key counties to explain why the red wave crashed, preview the next round of GOP infighting, and talk to a winning Democratic candidate in New York who recognized the party’s weaknesses there early.

It’ll take days to sort through what happened on Tuesday. Control of the House and Senate is still unknown. Millions of ballots on the West Coast and some in too-close-to-call Nevada and Arizona races, haven’t been processed. But we already know plenty about this electorate, and why voters, most of whom thought the country was on the wrong track, didn’t think Republicans were the right candidates to fix it.

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David Weigel

The story of the midterms, county by county

Democrats celebrate in Pittsburgh at an election watch party for John Fetterman. November 8, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki

THE NEWS

How did Election Night turn out so much worse than Republicans expected? How did they go into the night talking about a 54-seat Senate majority and the biggest House GOP caucus since the 1920s, and end up with, at best, a stalemate? And where did they buck the trend? Let’s review the tape, county by county, with illustrations courtesy of Lauren Kolesinskas.

Rockingham County, New Hampshire

2022: Maggie Hassan 51% (D), Don Bolduc 47% (R)

2016: Kelly Ayotte 51% (R), Maggie Hassan 45% (D)

New Hampshire could have been the GOP’s knockout state. When Florida Sen. Rick Scott talked about winning 53 or 54 Senate seats, he was thinking of New Hampshire first — where some late polls found a surprise surge against Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democratic senator who’d rarely polled above 50%.

There were plenty of Republican towns on the Massachusetts border that would never vote for Hassan and they still didn’t — but they were cool on Trumpy GOP nominee Don Bolduc. Hassan won five towns that she’d lost in her 2016 race against Sen. Kelly Ayotte and gained ground in 34 of the county’s 37 towns and cities overall. She grew her margins in the most progressive-friendly places, like Portsmouth, which backed her by 32 points in 2016 and 47 points on Tuesday.

And that pattern repeated across the northeast, even in races where Republicans improved on previous nominees. Hoping for a few House breakthroughs, they went winless. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who had endorsed Bolduc’s main primary opponent and won reelection easily on Tuesday, told CNN that the electorate’s message was “fix policy later, fix crazy now” — i.e., that it was willing to reject far-right candidates even if it was annoyed with Democrats.

Loudoun County, Virginia

2022: Jennifer Wexton 58% (D), Hung Cao 42% (R)

2021: Terry McAuliffe 55% (D), Glenn Youngkin 44% (R)

2020: Joe Biden 62% (D), Donald Trump 37% (R)

Virginia’s fast-growing exurbs were safely Republican until 2008, then competitive, then solidly Democratic. In last year’s successful statewide campaigns, Virginia Republicans pounded away at the Democratic margins in racially diverse, wealthy suburbs, winning voters who were nervous about lower public school test scores and cranky from the pandemic. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy pointed out that the same red shift, if it happened across the country, would give his party 60 House seats.

It would have, but the electorate in these sorts of places snapped back. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton was at the edge of the GOP’s target list, representing a seat Biden had carried by 19 points. She underperformed him by 13 points, but had enough of a cushion to hold on against Republican Hung Cao.

Erie County, Pennsylvania

2022: John Fetterman 53% (D), Mehmet Oz 44% (R)

2020: Joe Biden 50% (D), Donald Trump 49% (R)

The Fetterman campaign’s slogan was “every county, every vote,” with a goal of winning back some Pennsylvanians who’d drifted toward the GOP. And it worked, with an assist from a Republican nominee who’d parachuted into the Philadelphia suburbs from New Jersey to run.

In that part of the state, Oz did about as well as Donald Trump had in 2020. But he did worse in rural Pennsylvania, and in the places that had trended right during Barack Obama’s presidency. Fetterman ran ahead of Biden’s numbers across the state, holding Oz under 60% of the vote in places where Trump had cleared that number. Erie County, where the eponymous city is heavily Democratic, but most townships voted for Trump, gave him a 10,000 vote victory, up from Biden’s 1,500-vote upset two years ago.

Palm Beach County, Florida

2022: Ron DeSantis 51% (R), Crist 48% (D)

2020: Joe Biden 56% (D), Donald Trump 43% (R)

The red wave was real, if only in a few parts of the country — Florida, New York, and Iowa. No incumbent Republican gained more ground for his party than Ron DeSantis, most dramatically here, where traditional Democratic strength completely melted away. Not even Jeb Bush, in his two double-digit gubernatorial victories, could carry Palm Beach County.

DeSantis made some inroads, but the flip depended on a Democratic turnout collapse. Charlie Crist won just over 262,000 votes here, nearly 80,000 less than Andrew Gillum had when he nearly defeated DeSantis in 2018. The governor improved here by 37,000 votes. Tens of thousands of 2018 voters simply didn’t show up for Crist. It was a fatal combination for his adopted party — less enthusiasm in the base while Republicans converted tens of thousands of Latino voters into DeSantis supporters.

Cameron County, Texas

2022: Vicente Gonzales 50% (D), Mayra Flores 47% (R)

2020: Joe Biden 56% (D), Donald Trump 43% (R)

Republicans wanted to flip three heavily Latino House seats in the Rio Grande Valley, building on their gains from 2020. They spent more than $1.8 million to help Rep. Mayra Flores win the new 34th district, which was drawn to elect a Democrat. And Democrats spent millions more to bail out her opponent, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who’d never before had a Republican opponent who could fund a serious campaign. Flores won a June special election in a more competitive version of the seat.

Republicans did gain ground, but not enough, shrinking the Democratic margins in the region by only a few points. Gonzalez ran behind the Democratic ticket — in the other target seat that Republicans lost, Rep. Henry Cuellar won by 13 points, nearly doubling Joe Biden’s win margin two years ago.

Wayne County, Michigan

2022: Gretchen Whitmer 71% (D), Tudor Dixon 28% (R)

2020: Joe Biden 68% (D), Donald Trump 30% (R)

Michigan Republicans trailed in polls all year, but saw how a red wave could come together. They needed to ramp up conservative turnout in rural areas that were trending right. They needed Democrats in Detroit, still the party’s biggest Michigan stronghold, to stay home. And it wouldn’t hurt if voters in Dearborn, where half the electorate is Arab-American, soured on the party that wanted to keep LGBT materials in schools. The GOP ticket embraced protests at the city’s school board, and campaigned with an angry dad who’d quit the Democratic Party.

Conservatives did show up, and Dixon got more votes than any previous Republican candidate for governor. But there was no breakthrough in those Democratic parts of Wayne County. Democrats won 2-1 in Dearborn, and while turnout declined slightly in Detroit — from more than 180,000 Whitmer votes in 2018 to less than 163,000 this year — Democrats made up for it with improved numbers in other parts of the county.

DAVE’S VIEW

I was watching other key counties on Tuesday, and a few of them won’t finish tabulating their ballots until, at the earliest, this weekend. But you can see what happened already. Outside of a handful of states where the GOP strategy clicked into place — Florida, Iowa, New York — the party simply misread the electorate, running too hard to the right on the premise that it was safe to do so in a “red tsunami” scenario.

ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT

NRCC chair Tom Emmer told the Washington Post that Republicans “should be extremely happy” because they won a House majority and that was their goal (NOTE: It’s not actually clear yet they won a majority). As for concerns about underperforming MAGA candidates: “Donald Trump was a great ally of ours. He helped us with our fundraising, he helped with different candidates and we won a majority.”

The Map

National: Shelby Talcott reports on Donald Trump’s post-election rage… Charles Homans runs through the grassroots right’s losses… Harry Siegel sees an age of apocalyptic elections… Jonathan Martin reveals an aborted Rick Scott coup.

Florida: Gary Fineout explores how Ron DeSantis can use his grip on Florida to run for president.

Georgia: Maya King and Reid J. Epstein ask what happened to Stacey Abrams.

Michigan: Mike Wilkinson studies how Gretchen Whitmer won big.

New York: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells Nicholas Fandos why her state’s party leaders blew it.

Pennsylvania: Holly Otterbein and Natalie Allison get behind the scenes of the Fetterman win.

Texas: J. David Goodman buries Beto O’Rourke.

Infighting
A view of campaign signs posted on a street corner by attendees of a campaign rally for Republican candidate for Michigan Governor, Tudor Dixon, in Clinton Township, Michigan, U.S. November 4, 2022.
REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

On Monday, social conservatives looked to Michigan’s elections to test a new GOP strategy — a campaign against “gender ideology” that they thought would bring swing voters into their tent with lurid warnings of impressionable children being surgically sterilized against their parents’ wishes.

On Wednesday, after Democrats swept every statewide race, led by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and won control of the state legislature, state GOP chief of staff Paul Cordes published a memo on how Tudor Dixon’s strategy had failed.

“There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters,” Cordes wrote.

To many conservatives, Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 sweep in Virginia proved the power of a “parents’ rights” message on issues related to gender identity. So did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s success after signing a “parental rights” bill that prevented sex and gender talk in public schools before 4th grade. In Michigan, Dixon promised to sign a bill just like Florida’s if she won, but the message failed to make a dent in Whitmer’s blowout margins and its future on the campaign trail looks less certain now.

This argument isn’t over inside the GOP. The race for the party’s next House whip, which will unfold this month if Republicans secure a House majority, pits National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer against Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks. Social conservatives have thrown in behind Banks; Terry Schilling, whose American Principles Project spent millions this year on campaign ads about transgender identity, wrote on Twitter that Emmer was a “threat to families,” because he’d cast votes for gay marriage and against banning transgender people from serving in the military.

“If I were running for office, I would have branded them as anti-family politicians,” Schilling told Semafor. “They don't want women and men having babies anymore. They think that children are a liability. And even if we do get our children born, they want to corrupt them in schools, they want to teach them to change their gender — actually encourage them to do that!”

Q&A

'A Time For Patriots': How Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan survived New York's red wave

Democratic U.S. Rep. Pat Ryan of New York. November 5, 2022.
Ike Hayman/U.S. House of Representatives via REUTERS

New York Republicans thought that their August special election loss to Rep. Pat Ryan was a fluke. And in their state, they weren’t really wrong. Ryan had won a single-digit victory over Marc Molinaro, who ran in a neighboring district on Tuesday and won it.

“Trust me,” Ryan told Semafor on Wednesday. “The last thing I wanted was to be standing here as the only New York Democrat to win a tossup race.” The former Ulster County executive, an Iraq War combat veteran, gave us his view of what happened.

AMERICANA: Why did you win when so many New York Democrats in swing seats lost?

PAT RYAN: I really do think you need to start with the results of August 23. We literally did not change the message. The closing ad that we ran in the final two weeks of this race was shot and cut for the special; it talked about me delivering economic relief, talked about my record on public safety. Of course, we talked about protecting abortion rights and reproductive freedom, but the two main thrusts were rights and relief, and we carried that through to win.

AMERICANA: A lot of New York Democrats who were leading this summer ended up losing, and the consensus is that the Republican focus on crime demolished them. What was different in your race?

PAT RYAN: A lot of it was the willingness to say: Here's what I believe in, I'm going to fight for this, you're going to know where I'm gonna stand, even though you may not agree with me 100%. That stood out from the typical political-speak everybody's so exhausted by. Going into November, clearly, our opponents were trying to shift the ground and only talk about fear mongering and the crime stuff. We had already addressed that consistently. And we deliberately chose not to close on that in a defensive posture. We stayed on the offensive. If you create a vacuum, your opponent is going to fill it.

AMERICANA: What’s the future of criminal justice reform — cashless bail, getting people out of prison — if Republicans can hammer that message and unseat Democrats.

PAT RYAN: It's important to take the time to recognize where people are at, and actually listen to them. If they feel unsafe, we have to talk about what we've already done to fund public safety. In my short time in Congress we delivered half a billion dollars in federal funds for small and medium police departments, which every single Police Department in my district qualified for. It was tangible and meaningful to people.

AMERICANA: When you met voters who were sticking with you despite the worries about crime and inflation, why were they doing it?

PAT RYAN: I think election denial and threats to democracy were still very top of mind for a lot of voters. You had Lee Zeldin at the top of the ticket, who is not shy about where he stood on that. My opponent had appeared with a busload of insurrectionists, and went several years without publicly acknowledging the outcome of the 2020 election. I literally talked to a guy last night at my victory party, who was one of the managers at the hotel where we held it, who told me he was a staunch conservative who had voted for me, because he just appreciated that I had just very bluntly said “this is a time for patriots.” That really resonated with him.

AMERICANA: What are your thoughts about Donald Trump running for president again? The election went so badly for his candidates that I’ve started to hear Democrats say he’d help them if he ran.

PAT RYAN: I honestly think about this in a different way. It’s a moral structure question, as someone who's risked my life for our democracy. Donald Trump behaved in a way that is traitorous to our country. He should not be allowed anywhere near the White House or any elected office. Were he to run again, it would be a grave, mortal threat to our country and our democracy. And it would also be a major political mistake for the Republican Party.

But they've shown that they don’t care. My opponent was a MAGA acolyte. We’ve seen, I think, upwards of 75 candidates run as explicit election deniers. I've been reading and rereading this letter Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his father — it's something like, “we're at a point in a country where there are essentially two parties, there's traitors and patriots.” And I want to make clear that I’m on the side of the patriots.

Polls

The Democrats’ unexpectedly strong performances this week were delivered by voters who considered Republicans to be too right-wing. Compared to 2020, according to the same exit pollsters, the liberal share of the electorate was stable, the conservative share decreased by 2 points, and the moderate share increased by 2 points. Both liberals and conservatives became more partisan, with just 7% of the first group voting Republican and just 8 percent of the second voting for Democrats. The Democrats’ advantage with moderates shrank by half, from 30 points in 2020 to 15 points this week — but because they were a larger share of the overall vote, that surprise advantage prevented dozens of losses.

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