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Happy Wednesday morning.
A red wave? Not even close. A Republican victory? A Democratic stunner? Still unclear. Another two years of a closely divided Congress, where individual lawmakers can have huge sway? Practically assured.
Last night’s midterm election – which certainly could still end with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate – fell far short of the tsunami that the party and election handicappers projected.
We’ll get into what all this means for the House GOP and Democratic leadership below. We’ll also talk more about the Senate landscape, where the epic clash between Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will likely head to a runoff in the first week of December. As of now, Nevada’s Senate race is far from over, and both Arizona and Wisconsin haven’t been officially called.
This is worth mentioning at the top. House Republicans were confident of a sizable victory heading into the evening. Not a 1994 or 2010-scale win, of course, but they would have a comfortable majority. Democrats kept insisting several dozen tossup races were within a point or two, and it was wrong to write off their majority. Democrats were right.
What we can say definitively at this moment is that the Republicans’ massive cash advantage didn’t mean as much as they hoped. And if they do end up winning, the path to the majority ran through New York, Florida and California, although the final makeup of the House may not be known for days or weeks.
House Republican hopes for an early victory were vanquished in Virginia, where they won just one of three competitive seats held by Democratic incumbents. In North Carolina, Bo Hines, a much ballyhooed candidate in the central part of the state, lost to his Democratic opponent Wiley Nickel. Allan Fung, a Rhode Island Republican who became a darling of Republican leaders, lost to Democrat Seth Magaziner in the 2nd District.
In Texas, Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas) beat GOP Rep. Mayra Flores in the 34th District. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) cruised to victory over Republican Cassy Garcia in the 28th District. These two Democratic victories flew in the face of the narrative that Latino votes in South Texas would deliver a red wave and knock off González and Cuellar. Here’s Flores’ reaction:
“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home. DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DID NOT DO YOUR PART.”
In Ohio, Democrats flipped GOP Rep. Steve Chabot’s 1st District seat and held on to two more toss-up districts. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the longest-serving woman in House history, topped J.R. Majewski in the 9th District. And Emilia Sykes won the seat vacated by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) in the 13th District.
Some of the most vulnerable House Democrats survived, from Rep. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia to Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan, along with Rep. Angie Craig in Minnesota, Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire and Rep. Frank Mrvan in Indiana.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a bombastic Colorado Republican, was down two points to Democrat Adam Frisch in the 3rd District race in the western part of the state.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is scheduled to fly to Egypt today, noted how Democrats were “strongly outperforming expectations across the country” in a statement overnight.
To give a sense of how much of a shock this was to the Washington political establishment, consider this – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s team and allies were spread across two downtown hotels, ready to celebrate victory and their new majority. The DCCC had no public event or party scheduled.
But McCarthy’s Election Night bash ended up as more of a ghost town than celebratory party. For hours, dozens of GOP staffers milled around an open bar, nervously sipping drinks while watching Fox News. Next door in the ballroom, a stage emblazoned with “TAKE BACK THE HOUSE” remained empty.
When McCarthy finally emerged just before 2 a.m., he said “it is clear that we are going to take the House back.” McCarthy led off by hailing GOP gains in New York and prematurely claimed that the party had unseated DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in the 17th District. That race hasn’t been called yet, although Maloney is trailing GOP challenger Mike Lawler by several thousand votes.
Yet we still don’t know the full story of what’s happened in California, New York, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, states where Republicans were confident of unseating Democratic incumbents.
The case for Republicans, as laid out to us early this morning, is that the GOP will pick up a seat or two in Arizona, three in Florida, one in Georgia, three in New York, one in Oregon, two in Texas and a smattering of other states en route to a victory in the mid 220s.
Again, this falls far short of the historic norm for a president’s first midterm election.
Democrats, for their part, won seats in Ohio, Texas and Michigan. They were leading in some races in Arizona, California and the aforementioned Colorado that would be pickups and cut into any GOP majority.
– Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, Max Cohen and Heather Caygle
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THE BATTLE FOR THE UPPER CHAMBER
Senate control hinges on Georgia and Nevada
After two years and more than $1 billion worth of spending, control of the Senate is still up for grabs. And it may be several more weeks until the majority is decided, with huge implications for President Joe Biden’s administration, Congress and the country as a whole.
But what’s clear is that, like the House, Democrats are doing better than expected in the Senate. It remains to be seen whether that performance is enough to leave them in control come January.
Georgia, Wisconsin and Nevada remain too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of those three races. Arizona hasn’t been called either, although incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is leading Republican Blake Masters handily at the moment.
And Democrats picked up one seat as Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz in an enormously expensive race that went down to the wire.
In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan rolled to another term, while Democrats Michael Bennet in Colorado and Patty Murray in Washington State also won. GOP Rep. Ted Budd (N.C.) defeated Democrat Cheri Beasley in a surprisingly competitive race in North Carolina.
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is holding a 33,000-vote lead over Democrat Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin. As we noted, this race hasn’t been officially called yet.
Yet it’s Georgia and Nevada where the real drama is right now.
In the Peach State, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is holding a razor-thin lead over Republican challenger Herschel Walker with 97% of the vote counted. Warnock’s edge is just under 29,000 votes, or 0.74%.
With 49.34% of the vote currently in, Warnock is just under the 50% margin needed for an outright victory. That would mean he and Walker head to a Dec. 6 runoff. That hasn’t been officially declared yet, but it seems all but certain at this point. Georgia will become the center of the political universe between now and December. If Senate control comes down to the runoff, both parties will spend staggering amounts of money on the Walker-Warnock matchup.
Gabriel Sterling, the COO of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, tweeted this statement shortly after 2 a.m.:
While county officials are still doing the detailed work on counting the votes, we feel it is safe to say there will be a runoff for the US Senate here in Georgia slated for December 6. #gapol
In Nevada, Republican challenger Adam Laxalt is leading Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by 22,000 votes with roughly 75% of the vote counted.
But CCM isn’t done yet. As Nevada’s leading political reporter Jon Ralston notes, there are tens of thousands of uncounted mail ballots in Clark and Washoe counties combined. So Cortez Masto could still win.
You know who is looking quite smart right now? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell whose super PAC invested in Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada while leaving Arizona alone.
– John Bresnahan
THE HOUSE GOP
McCarthy and his leadership team are about to enter uncharted territory
We’re going to present a few scenarios to you this morning about the state of play in House Republican leadership. We are exploring every possible outcome because every outcome is possible at this point.
Republicans win a narrow majority
The most likely scenario at this point is that Republicans end up with a majority of somewhere between two to 12 votes. This margin would be historically small, something along the lines of what Republicans operated with during the early 2000s. McCarthy told us this fall that if he ended up with a narrow majority, it would force the party to be disciplined and unified. Stay tuned.
Let’s take McCarthy’s challenge in two parts.
McCarthy will have to win a majority in a secret-ballot election to become the party’s nominee for speaker. We don’t anticipate this will be a huge hurdle, although the disappointing results Tuesday night could prompt a challenger to McCarthy. McCarthy would only need a simple majority to win this internal party vote.
But winning a speaker vote on the House floor come Jan. 3 is a whole different issue. McCarthy will make the argument that he won House seats two cycles in a row and brought the party back to the majority. But let’s say for argument’s sake that Republicans control 225 seats. Could McCarthy hold 218 Republicans – all but seven of his colleagues – behind his bid for the speakership?
We already have heard murmurs from Republicans such as Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) that they won’t back McCarthy without significant concessions to conservatives. If hardline Republicans see McCarthy on the ropes – and he will come out of Tuesday night with a weaker hand than he hoped – will they start making demands? McCarthy doesn’t like to negotiate to earn lawmakers’ support, but he may not have a choice this time around.
There are some in the leadership who still believe that Republicans will win 230 seats. This will take time to figure out. What is clear is that the outcome wasn’t what the House GOP leadership predicted.
One of the questions at this point is whether McCarthy decides to delay the leadership elections beyond next week. There are upsides and downsides in doing so. Upside: McCarthy may not know how many seats Republicans won or lost in California by next Tuesday, when the leadership election is supposed to be held. But the downside is that a delay will give agitators time to agitate. McCarthy’s best bet may be to move quickly.
That leads us to governing. How does McCarthy govern? Not easily. With President Joe Biden in the White House and solid Democratic opposition in the Senate – in fact, possibly a Democratic majority – McCarthy is limited in what House Republicans can do policy-wise. They can investigate Biden all they want, but winning showdowns over spending, taxes and broader policy will be difficult. McCarthy has a weak hand.
Tuesday’s results also alter the politics of the upcoming lame-duck session. The best hope for McCarthy at the moment is that Democrats will go for broke in the lame duck, pass government funding through next Oct. 1 and, if he’s really lucky, lift the debt ceiling.
There’s been a lot of talk from GOP hardliners about impeaching Biden or other senior administration officials, including Attorney General Merrick Garland or Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. But can they do that with a razor-thin majority worried about defending their seats in 2024? McCarthy, who was already skeptical, may not want to take that risk heading into a presidential cycle.
What does this mean for the rest of GOP leadership?
Goodness gracious, this is going to get complicated.
Let’s start with the race for GOP whip. NRCC Chair Tom Emmer’s candidacy was predicated on Republicans having a big night on Tuesday. Republicans didn’t have the night they had anticipated, so this should probably hurt Emmer. We’re basing this off of several conversations we had with top Republicans. We’ll track the internal machinations very closely.
Does the GOP’s performance help Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) or Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.)? We’ve heard it argued both ways in the past few hours. Many of the candidates who won are Banks’ allies. But expect those close to Ferguson to make the case that they need someone who has whip experience to navigate the tight margins.
Plus, one of Banks’ calling cards is that he is close to former President Donald Trump. Will Republicans want someone who is close to Trump when coziness with the 45th president was hardly a helpful factor on Election Day?
As of last night, Banks had 22 whips ready to fan across the conference to support his candidacy. The team will be led by Reps. Ashley Hinson (Iowa), August Pfluger (Texas), Ronny Jackson (Texas), Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Dan Bishop (N.C.).
Ferguson has been working this race quietly and assiduously. He has new life after Tuesday’s underwhelming showing, despite McCarthy’s dislike for him.
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
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WHAT’S UP WITH HOUSE DEMS
Pelosi: Will she stay or will she go?
The big question is what does Speaker Nancy Pelosi do now? And what will House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn do?
Pelosi has been the House Democratic leader for 20 years now. The California Democrat – at the demand of a restless rank-and-file faction – previously said this would be her last term atop the caucus. But Pelosi has refused to reaffirm that commitment recently, resulting in lots of guessing games.
The fact is anyone who tells you they know what Pelosi is going to do – save for one or two people we won’t name here, but you know who you are – is just guessing.
But we checked in with Democratic members, longtime staffers and downtown confidantes last night. Here are the most likely scenarios we heard:
Pelosi retires but doesn’t announce a decision until after Thanksgiving. Pelosi herself has said her political future “will be affected” by the brutal attack on her husband Paul Pelosi two weeks ago.
Of course, you could read her comments either way, and many people have done just that to us. But multiple Democrats said they took Pelosi’s remarks to mean she sees her political legacy as fully realized and will now turn to spending more time with her husband and family.
Not announcing her retirement until after Thanksgiving would allow Pelosi to focus on wrapping up legislative business, including the NDAA and an omnibus government funding bill. It would also allow Pelosi to deal with post-election housekeeping issues such fundraising to cover campaign debt and helping members with recounts if needed.
But if you’re any other Democrat hoping to run for a top leadership position – say Hoyer, Clyburn or House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries – this could really screw up your plans. Remember, Jeffries is one of the few Democratic leaders in a term-limited position.
In leadership races, locking up support early is usually the key to victory. And it’s hard to do that when the current leader won’t say whether she’s planning to stay or go.
Pelosi makes a pitch to stay. Yes, the speaker previously promised to leave after this term. And yes, the caucus in general has been agitating for new leadership for some time.
But there’s a few factors to consider here. First, many of the Democrats who openly rebelled against Pelosi and demanded term limits won’t be in the House next year.
Second, who is going to challenge her? Pelosi has repeatedly said power is never given, it is taken. If you’re Hoyer, you probably feel pretty good about another term as the No. 2 House Democrat. If you’re Jeffries, what’s another year or two waiting, why risk it? Who else is there?
Finally, Pelosi can make the case that Democrats triumphed in many ways in what was expected to be a wipeout year for them, in part thanks to her steady guiding hand. Stick with Pelosi and she could help lead them back to the majority in two years, she could say.
Pelosi announces plans to leave but the caucus pushes for her to stay. Pelosi’s fundraising prowess is unmatched. She’s raised more than $1 billion for the party since joining leadership 20 years ago.
Pelosi is the best vote counter in the House. And she kept her fractured caucus united this Congress as they passed several major pieces of legislation. If the House majority really is within reach in 2024, why would the caucus throw all of that out, some Democrats said to us last night.
Here’s the thing – If Democrats are in the minority, whoever runs for Democratic leader only has to win a simple majority in a secret caucus election. That’s much, much easier than having to wrangle 218 public votes on the floor for speaker.
– Heather Caygle
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11:45 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
“Judge Dismisses Alexander Vindman’s Lawsuit Against Trump Allies,” by Aishvarya Kavi
“Trump absorbs GOP losses, while DeSantis glows with landslide victory,” by Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey
“The candidates who made history in Tuesday’s midterms,” by Joanna Slater
“Ukraine’s Zelensky Sets Conditions for ‘Genuine’ Peace Talks With Russia,” by Matthew Luxmoore, Laurence Norman and Marcus Walker
“Slavery rejected in some, not all, states where on ballot,” by Aaron Morrison
“Abortion rights protected in Michigan, California, Vermont,” by Lindsay Whitehurst
“Bass and Caruso duel in historically expensive L.A. mayor’s race,” by Julia Wick, Benjamin Oreskes and James Rainey
“Trump’s biggest midterm bets don’t pay out,” by Meridith McGraw
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Through Project UP, Comcast is committing $1 billion to open doors for the next generation and help Americans make the most of the Internet. This includes expanding efforts with trusted community partners to activate a network of Digital Navigators, local experts who help build awareness around initiatives like the government’s Affordable Connectivity Program and teach critical digital skills to get more people online. Learn more about Comcast’s initiatives to get more people connected.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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