In unalloyed good news for democracy, Republican, Jan. 6 insurgent, and Big Lie promoter Doug Mastriano lost the Pennsylvania gubernatorial contest Tuesday night. The victory by Democrat Josh Shapiro was important not just for the Keystone State, but for the nation at large, because Pennsylvania’s governor appoints its secretary of state — the top election official — and MAGA Mastriano made clear he intended to use that power to turn the swing state red.
By now many MAGA Republicans expected to be popping champagne corks. But the defeat of the Trump-backed Mastriano is a sign that voter disaffection with Democratic governance isn’t coinciding with an embrace of anything-goes authoritarianism. Voters in Wisconsin sent a similar message by defeating GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, recently caught on tape saying: “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
No clear wave — red or blue — has yet set up, even as midnight has passed the East coast. Republicans remain favorites to take the House; the Senate looks like a jump ball. Now comes the waiting. And more waiting. The outcomes of key races may depend on votes in Western states that are still in the mail. California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington count ballots postmarked through election day. The full outcome of the 2022 election may not be clear for days, or weeks. In fact, control of the Senate could hinge on a recount election in Georgia that wouldn’t take place until early December.
Early returns on election night 2022 painted a contrasting picture of bright reds and blues. Florida experienced a localized red wave, with the overwhelming re-election of MAGA Republican Ron DeSantis as governor, and Marco Rubio to the Senate. But further up the Eastern Seaboard, Democratic gubernatorial candidates put an end to Republican rule in Maryland and Massachusetts, with the former picking up its first-ever Black governor, and the latter choosing the first out lesbian governor in the country.
Democrats are holding their own. The Herschel Walker/Raphael Warnock Senate contest in Georgia is, as of this moment, close to call. A bellwether House race in Virginia tipped in Democrats’ favor with the reelection of Rep. Abigail Spanberger. And mounting returns from Colorado suggested even America First stalwart Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) could be in trouble. Republicans delivered a reality check when J.D. Vance was called as the new Senator from Ohio. But then John Fetterman flipped Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat, defeating the New Jersey quack, Dr. Oz.
State voters also appear to be giving abortion rights advocates significant victories, with Vermont becoming the first state to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution, and California and Michigan looking likely to follow.
For those who like their planets uncooked and their democracies unthreatened, a lot of dread attended Election Night 2022. Fears of a red tsunami had top Democratic surrogates — from Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren — deploying to seemingly safe blue turf from New York to New Mexico to Oregon.
The first mid-term of any presidency tends to be brutal for the party in power. And the economic woes of the Biden era — including sky-high gas prices, worst in four-decades inflation, and a cratered stock market — had Republicans salivating at gains they hoped might rival 1994 or 2010. Instead, Tuesday night brought myriad and humbling defeats. “From red wave to red wedding,” griped Ben Shapiro, referencing an infamously bloody episode of Game of Thrones.
Even now, there is still a slim chance that Democrats may hang on to the House and maintain control in the Senate. But the best-case scenario is far from rosy: Even if Democrats retain the thin House and Senate majorities that they wielded, that would means another year (or less) of attempting to grind forward their agenda, before turning to the nation’s quadrennial struggle for the White House. With the Senate still in Democratic hands, at least sane jurists could continue to populate the federal courts.
Not appetizing, but it seems near utopian when compared with the alternatives.
One the other hand, if Republicans — despite running a candidate slate of MAGAfied maniacs — take over control of either chamber, it would effectively end any hope of Congress using the next two years to make life better. Instead, the government is likely to lurch from one self-created crisis to the next — with endless standoffs over the budget, the debt ceiling, and whatever other hostages Republicans can take in search of leverage over the Biden administration.
And in the day-to-day, a Republican controlled House will be a kangaroo court for the Biden administration. They’ve already vowed to use their “oversight” capacity to repeat a version of the Benghazi Bingo they played during the end of the Obama era, this time with additions from Qanon-friendly lawmakers and those eager to grab the attention of Dear Leader-in-Exile Donald Trump. In terms of Biden himself, lawmakers are already getting questions from Trump about when — and how often — they’ll impeach the Democratic president.
But even that is not rock bottom. While most elections are contests between competing parties, 2022 is a contest between the ongoing functioning of electoral democracy and, well, whatever regime comes after that. Officials on the ballot tonight will set the ground rules of the 2024 presidential contest, and many of them are running on explicitly anti-democracy platforms. For the moment, voters appear to be fending off the threat to fair elections. Two of the most toxic candidates for secretary of state — Arizona’s Mark Finchem (a bonafide Oath Keeper) and Nevada’s Jim Marchant (who seeks to “wipe out the voter rolls completely and then have everybody re-register”) — are lagging badly in the polls and appear headed to defeat. Two bullets dodged, but with plenty remaining in the chamber.