The midterms aren’t over yet, but Republicans have lost the expectations game

Republicans had hoped for a red wave. What they got looked more like purple rain.

As Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, what was once a foregone conclusion for Midterms 2022 was now in the air. It’s possible, maybe even more likely, that Republicans will retake the House of Representatives. And the GOP could still win the Senate. But it is also possible that the Democrats and President Joe Biden will end up with a historic night.

Democrats have always expected to lose seats in the House of Representatives. So much still looked like a solid bet after some seats were removed from Democratic scrutiny. What no one seemed to expect, however, was that Democrats could potentially limit a GOP majority to just a few seats — or possibly even retain the majority themselves.

If the Republicans win back the House of Representatives, not much will change. Republicans would still be unable to translate their legislative wish list into legislation. They may not even be able to carry their most partisan ideas out of the House of Representatives — or impeach Biden, as his political opponent, former President Donald Trump, has called for.

The only thing that would be different is that Republicans could use the House of Representatives as a political mace — an investigative buzz saw to distract the administration and cast a cloud of controversy over Biden.

That was possibly the good news for the GOP on a night that Republicans had to squint to see much of it. The bad news was obvious.

Instead of the robust GOP majority of their electoral dreams, voters will hand both parties a razor-thin advantage — so small that even if Republicans win, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s rise to the speakership is already in doubt.

In the final weeks of the midterm season, expectations were overrun as Republicans poured millions of dollars into once-solid blue seats. Republicans didn’t just measure the curtains; They planned to redecorate the whole house.

Democrats, shaken by their falling poll numbers and historical trends, feared Republicans could have dozens of seats in the House of Representatives and a multi-seat majority in the Senate.

But as the results came in Tuesday night and early Wednesday, that scenario vanished and Republicans clung to hope that they could turn at least one of the chambers.

After four years of Democratic control in the House of Representatives, two years of unified control between Congress and the White House, and a year of inflation that had voters worried, the GOP seemed poised to ride a wave of discontent to power.

Even with many races remaining, it was clear that Republicans would not win the seats they expected would form the basis of their majority. John Fetterman has a narrow win over Dr. Mehmet Oz to flip the Senate seat there. The GOP fell flat in New Hampshire with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and both Democratic House lawmakers — Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster – Won re-election.

And Republicans slammed into a slew of other targets: Democrats Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) won their races. The GOP failed to turn over an open Rhode Island seat that Allan Fung, a valued McCarthy recruit, was hyped for. And Republicans lost competitive seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

In fact, as of 1 a.m. ET, only two Democratic incumbents, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), had lost. Somehow, in the state of Ohio alone, Democrats had flipped two seats held by the GOP. In Michigan, GOP extremist John Gibbs defeated more moderate Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) in the primary — then lost to Democrat Hillary Scholten on Tuesday night.

Chances are the news for Republicans is about to get a lot better. That was the story in 2018, as Democrats slowly eroded the GOP majority over weeks as the votes were tallied before coming to a 40-seat gain. And of the Senate races yet to be called, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin were too close to be called.

But early signs were clear: This was not the night Republicans had hoped or expected. The drawn-out Senate races that Republicans believed had an outside chance to topple — including in Colorado with Senator Michael Bennet and in Washington with Senator Patty Murray — were not close. The governor races that Republicans wanted to conquer — like New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maine — stayed blue. And some of the tight Senate races yet to come looked promising for Democrats.

It is these few Senate races, plus a handful of undecided house races, that will determine control of both chambers. But by margins that are slim either way, the leadership races for both Democrats and Republicans are far more unpredictable than they were before Election Day.

The good news for Democrats is tempered by the fact that the Republicans elected Tuesday are decidedly more Republican and extreme than ever.

The majority of GOP candidates did not recognize Biden as a legitimate president. Many said the election was stolen. And a majority of returning Republicans voted to annul the election on Jan. 6 — just hours after a violent coup attempt.

All of the Republicans elected Tuesday have committed themselves to a decidedly different direction than that set by Biden and the Democrats. And with a Congress this even but bitterly divided, consensus will be a difficult goal no matter who has the majority. The midterms aren’t over yet, but Republicans have lost the expectations game

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