Julia Hoffmann is a final year International Relations student at King’s College. She enjoys learning about a broad range of regional dynamics and placing these into dialogue with current affairs and contemporary political developments. As an editor, she is excited to brainstorm out-of-the-box article ideas and encourage writers to dig beyond the surface of a story.
It feels like every time, American voters – and the rest of the world by extension somehow – are told that this year, this election, this vote, is the most important decision they will make in their lifetime! In 2016, Donald Trump scuttled down his escalator right into the limelight of American politics while the 2018 midterms were supposedly the decisive fire wall meant to stop his harmful and “America First” agenda. Then, 2020 was the year Democrats were called on to put an end to Trump. The sad truth of the matter is that these claims are not even wrong. When Americans chose Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton with a vote of 304 to 227 (Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.1%), this ushered in one of the most erratic and unreliable phases of modern American politics characterised by aggressive and racial immigration policy, dangerous rhetoric in politically sensitive contexts, and abandonment of key allies. The long-term ramifications of his time in office are still being felt and lived in his embrace and amplification of conspiracy theorists, the continuing threat of the MAGA movement, that, let’s not forget, tried to storm the Capitol on January 6th and hang Vice President Mike Pence. His agenda was partly stymied when Democrats took back the House and Senate in 2018 and was brought to a stop with the electoral victory of Joe Biden in 2020. These elections had global ramifications: after all, it could have been Donald Trump deciding how America responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, handling historical levels of inflation and (not) speaking at COP27 – and what a scary world that would be. But it’s not over yet. With issues like Abortion, aka the right to bodily autonomy for females, and the threat of election deniers being installed in key positions to overturn the 2024 presidential election, the sad reality of modern American politics is that voters need to keep their eye on the ball if they want to continue having elections.
What’s going on?
If you have been keeping up with election coverage in the run-up to Tuesday, you will no doubt have been inundated with news about the “Republican wave”. Midterms are historically when voters take revenge on the incumbent president and their party and this year was shaping up to be no different, with pollsters calling the House and Senate for Republicans and 2022 a Republican-leaning environment. Knowing Democrats and Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings, we all believed them. But, even though not all races have been called as of the writing of this article, Democrats have seemingly outperformed their predictions while Republicans are left scrambling for answers to what went wrong. So, what were the key races people were looking out for ahead of Tuesday? Likely the most anticipated race this year was the Senate race in Pennsylvania between John Fetterman (D) and famously fake doctor, Mehmet Oz (R). Steven Law, president of the preeminent Republican Senate super PAC, had called this one a: “a must-win race. We believe if we win Pennsylvania, we win the majority”. More than its significance for Senate control, this race also saw political outsider and weed legalisation-supporting Fetterman pitted against one of Trump’s candidates – and win. This came as a special relief for Democrats after Fetterman’s near fatal stroke during his campaign and worrying debate performance. His victory has been described as “the fire wall” by Democratic operative, Mike Mikus, making it almost impossible for the GOP to win a majority in the Senate.
Figure 1 John Fetterman wins in Pennsylvania
Another state to watch is Georgia. Democrats hoped that the up-and-coming star in the party, Stacey Abrams (D),would be able to take on the incumbent governor, Brian Kemp (R),after her loss to him in 2018. While she was not able to seek out a victory, Democrats still have faith that they can claim one electoral victory in Georgia in the form of Democratic candidate for Senate, Raphael Warnock (D).Warnock faces off against another Trump-backed candidate, Herschel Walker (R) who ahead of the elections is still dogged by accusations of paying for two abortions despite his staunch anti-abortion stance. With neither candidate having wrangled more than 50% of the vote, this race will advance to a run-off election on December 6th. Mirroring 2021, the Peach State might once again be the determining player in who takes control of the Senate. Arizona’s gubernatorial race, which has not been called for either candidate yet, is another high-stake battlefield for Democrats and Republicans. Here, Katie Hobbs (D) faces off against Kari Lake (R). Lake who is both a vocal supporter of Donald Trump and an election denier is, unsurprisingly, already casting aspersions on the veracity of this election in which she trails Hobbs. Lake’s victory would not only be a victory for election deniers, but would in all likelihood place Arizona, which was already a hotspot for election deniers following the 2020 elections, firmly on the side of the GOP presidential candidate in 2024 – regardless of Arizonian votes. Next, Democrats were hoping to flip Wisconsin but were disappointed when Senate candidate Mandela Barnes (D) lost to the incumbent, Ron Johnson (R), by 1%. Votes in the Nevada Senate race are still out although current estimates are favouring Republican candidate, Adam Laxalt (R), over incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto (D) who became the US’ first Latina senator upon her election in 2016.
Opinion: Bad night for Republicans, worse for election deniers
While comprehensive post-election analyses are still out – don’t worry, they’re coming, and in masses. Some important political dynamics for the future of American politics are already evident at this point. The first of these is the most obvious: this was not the Republican march through that the public was expecting. The Senate remains a tight battle between Republicans and Democrats, and even control of the House is still up in the air. While Republicans are still favoured to win both, their majority is potentially going to be very narrow and dominated by the most extremist members of the Republican party, making every vote an uphill battle for probable GOP House leader, Kevin McCarthy. Donald Trump stands out as another big loser. His candidates in two of the most prominent races this election, Oz in Pennsylvania and Walker in Georgia, have had their reputations damaged during their campaigns and were not able to claim a decisive victory for Team Trump. Trump’s loyal election deniers have also had a tough night. Many of the GOP’s high-profile, election-denying gubernatorial candidates, probably with aspirations to overturn the next presidential election, have had to concede their races with their tails between their legs. Adding to Trump’s woes is Ron DeSantis’ decisive victory in the now firmly-red state of Florida. Pundits have guessed that DeSantis will use an electoral victory as a springboard for a Republican candidacy for president against Trump. Buffeted by his overwhelming victory margin in Florida, DeSantis is surely feeling even more confident, especially in the face of Trump’s losses this election.
Figure 2 Ron DeSantis is re-elected as Florida’s governor
Fig. 2 https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2022-election/gov-ron-desantis-cruises-re-election-solidifying-gop-hold-florida-poli-rcna56196