The reasons behind the unexpectedly close outcome of the November 8 midterm elections will be closely studied by political scientists for years to come. Based upon historical precedent, the low job approval rating of President Joe Biden, and high levels of voter concern over inflation and crime, many analysts were expecting a major Republican victory in congressional races across the country, giving the GOP a substantial majority in the next House and likely replacing the current 50-50 split in the Senate with a narrow Republican lead.
But the expected “red” wave in the House races failed to materialize, while in the Senate, Democrats succeeded in not only in defending their most vulnerable incumbents, but also capturing the open seat in Pennsylvania created by the retirement of Republican Senator Part Toomey.
The Pennsylvania race gained nationwide attention because the candidates both faced significant problems. The Democrat candidate, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, is a committed liberal progressive, but he presented himself as a colorful throwback to a previous era when Democrat candidates were more responsive to the interests of their traditional base of working-class voters. Fetterman received few endorsements from prominent Pennsylvania Democrats, who viewed him as a “lone wolf” political personality. Nevertheless, he easily won the Democrat primary, with 58.7% of the vote, against a more moderate candidate, Congressman Conor Lamb.
HOW FETTERMAN WON DESPITE HIS STROKE
However, just a few days before that primary, Fetterman suffered a life-threatening stroke which incapacitated him for almost three months and left him with significant speech and audio processing difficulties. This raised questions in the minds of many voters about his cognitive abilities to fulfill his duties if elected to the Senate.
While his disabilities were largely covered up by his family and campaign operatives, Fetterman’s auditory and speech difficulties became painfully obvious during his October 25 debate with his Republican opponent for the Senate seat, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity television doctor who had just moved to Pennsylvania from his home in New Jersey to qualify as a candidate, and who had no previous experience in electoral politics.
After the debate, when GOP activists and campaign donors realized that Fetterman was vulnerable on the health issue, they began to rally in support of Oz, whom they had previously dismissed as poorly prepared opportunistic candidate. As Oz sharply reduced Fetterman’s initial lead in the opinion polls, many Republicans believed that the unanswered questions about Fetterman’s health would become the dominant factor enabling Oz to score a come-from-behind victory. But when the Pennsylvania votes were tallied, Fetterman defeated Oz by a surprisingly comfortable 210,000 votes, amounting to a 4.4% margin, and became the only Democrat candidate in the country to successfully flip a Republican Senate seat.
ADDRESSING LONG-NEGLECTED DEMOCRAT VOTERS
In his victory speech, Fetterman attributed his success to his decision to invest much of his campaign time meeting voters in Pennsylvania’s working class, small town, and rural communities that most Democrat candidates largely ignored in recent election cycles. This was why so many of these voters abandoned their traditional support for Democrat candidates to vote for Donald Trump and other Republicans running on Trump’s issues tailored to the concerns of those voters.
While Fetterman received the bulk of his votes from the traditional Democrat strongholds — urban population centers in and around cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — he realized that those votes might not be enough to win if he allowed his opponent to dominate the rural and working class vote in the rest of the state. While most voters in those areas still gave their support to Oz, the Republican vote was noticeably smaller than it had been in recent elections, enabling Fetterman to win statewide by a more impressive margin than most had expected.
REACHING OUT ACROSS THE STATE
On election night, Fetterman told his supporters, “We launched this campaign almost two years ago, and we had our slogan. It’s on every one of those signs right now: ‘Every county. Every vote.’ That’s exactly what happened. We jammed them [the Republicans] up. We held the line. I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue. But we did what we needed to do, and we had that conversation across every one of those counties. And tonight, that’s why I’ll be the next US senator from Pennsylvania.”
Depicting himself as a Democrat political maverick, Fetterman did not try to water down his progressive economic message when speaking to those rural and working-class voters. He believed that voters living in the depressed areas of Pennsylvania who have long suffered from economic inequality, long-term poverty, a lack of jobs due to the impact of de-industrialization, inadequate access to health care, and failing schools would respond to his bold, populist progressive message calling for major economic changes — and many of them did.
In reaching out beyond Democrats’ urban base, Fetterman delivered a powerful message to those voters that Democrats have ignored for so long, that “no community deserves to be left behind, no community deserves to be abandoned, and every place matters.”
In his victory speech, Fetterman declared, “We bet on the people of Pennsylvania, and you didn’t let us down.” Democrat candidates running in future elections would do well to emulate Fetterman’s strategy, making the extra effort to address the concerns of alienated working-class voters and try to convince them to return to their former Democrat roots.
ZELDIN’S NEAR MISS GIVES NEW YORK REPUBLICANS HOPE
One of the most surprising outcomes of the midterm election was the unexpected successes of several New York Republican candidates for Congress and the state legislature, led by the vigorous gubernatorial candidacy of Lee Zeldin, who gave Democrat Governor Kathy Hochul a tougher battle than most had expected.
Even though Zeldin lost to Hochul by six points, his high-profile candidacy, which focused on New York’s out-of-control crime problems, gave a significant boost to his Republican down ballot running mates, enabling them to score some unexpected victories with significant national political consequences.
One of the greatest upsets of the election was the defeat of five-term Democrat Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who is head of national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Maloney was running in New York’s 17th Congressional District, covering New York City’s northern suburbs, and he lost to a relatively moderate Republican State Assemblyman, Michael Lawler, due, in part, to strong opposition to Democrat policies by voters in the Orthodox communities in his district.
Republican Marcus Molinaro beat Democrat Josh Riley in the race for the 19th Congressional District, flipping that House vote from Democrat to Republican, as did the Republican winners in New York’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts on Long Island, George Santos and Anthony D’Esposito.
Because of delays in the official tally of the last 18 congressional races that are still too close to call (at this writing), those four GOP pickups in New York could wind up representing the party’s margin of victory, giving them narrow majority control in the House of Representatives.
The finger pointing among state Democrat party officials for their failure to defend those House seats has already begun. Progressive Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who easily won reelection in New York’s 14th District, blamed former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party machine for being unwilling to invest in grassroots organizing. Ocasio-Cortez has called for the resignation of state party chairman Jay Jacobs, whom had been picked by Cuomo, because he has not been effective at helping Democrats win local races.
Veteran Democrat political strategist Howard Wolfson told the New York Times that despite the ability of Democrats to hold off the expected red wave of Republican midterm victories in the rest of the country, “it was a terrible night in New York. It’s infuriating that a night as good as it was for Democrats overall is undone by arrogance and incompetence here.”
While Zeldin ran a vigorous and effective campaign against Hochul, she did not seem to take his challenge seriously until the final weeks before the election. Zeldin’s late surge in the polls prompted her to show a sudden interest in addressing New York’s crime problem and to ask national Democrat party leaders to come to New York to campaign on her behalf. In the end, the huge majority of registered Democrat voters in New York City provided Hochul with her six-point margin of victory, but Zeldin still generated enough support to give New York State Republicans hope that they will soon be able to break through and elect their candidates to statewide offices for the first time since George Pataki was elected governor in 2002.
While Zeldin was popular with the more conservative voters living outside of New York City, political pundits believed that to beat Hochul, he needed to attract around 35% of the New York City vote. But on election day, Zeldin was only able to get 30% of the city’s vote, and that difference amounted to Hochul’s margin of victory.
However, Zeldin’s strong performance suggested that if Republicans in New York ran candidates who would be acceptable to independents and mainstream Democrat voters, they could become competitive in statewide elections once again. Several other liberal dominated northeastern states have elected moderate Republican governors in recent years who have gone on to become overwhelmingly popular, such as two-term Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan. In Vermont last week, Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection by a 47-point margin, while the same voters elected a Democratic supermajority to their state legislature.
Much of the blame for the Democrat losses of four congressional seats in New York was due to their failure to exert control over the federally mandated redistricting process based upon the 2020 census. New York State Judge Patrick McAllister had rejected a redistricting map submitted by the Democrats because it would have left Republicans with only four congressional districts in the state, out of a total of 26, in which their candidates would be competitive. The map was then redrawn by an independent court appointed special master.
The new map was more politically neutral, providing 15 Democrat-majority districts, three Republican-majority districts, and eight districts in which neither party had a significant voter registration advantage. Several veteran Democrats in addition to Maloney, including Mondaire Jones and Carolyn Maloney, suddenly found themselves forced to run for reelection in newly redrawn districts in which the voters did not know them, and went down to defeat.
Democrats also saw their supermajorities in both state houses reduced by the results of the midterm election, after enjoying complete control of both the New York Assembly and the New York State Senate for the past several years,
Even in New York City, long the bastion of liberal Democrats and progressives, the voter demographics in the outer boroughs have begun to swing in favor of Republicans, especially among Orthodox Jews and Asians. Aside from rising crime, the main issue for Orthodox Jews has been the growing New York State interference with yeshiva education. Asians also faced a crime spree, and are also upset at the attempt by officials to discriminate against the enrollment of outstanding Asian students on the basis of their academic merit in the city’s elite public schools, such as the Bronx High School of Science. Parents and community members are expressing their anger at this discrimination by Democrat officials by voting for local Republican candidates in their communities, such as Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing in Queens, and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst.
The school discrimination issue is not limited to New York City. There is currently a case before the US Supreme Court which claims that the admission standards of the nation’s prestigious Ivy League universities also seek to unfairly exclude high-achieving Asian students, while giving preference to the admission of members of other minority groups. But it does have more serious political consequences for New York Democrats, because Asians are, by far, the fastest growing ethnic community in New York City today.
FLORIDA OFFERS HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE GOP
While Republicans nationwide were deeply disappointed that the midterm “red wave” they had expected to sweep them into power in the House and Senate failed to materialize, there was one state where that promise was fulfilled.
In past national election cycles, Florida had always been considered the prime example of a battleground or swing state. Because it has the third largest population of any state in the nation, Florida’s Electoral College votes can often determine the outcome of close presidential races.
The state’s largest counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach in South Florida are largely populated by retirees from the northeast who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. But their votes are largely balanced out by Republicans and more conservative voters living along the densely populated I-4 corridor stretching across central Florida from Orlando to Tampa.
THE FLORIDA 2000 VOTE RECOUNT
The sharp struggle for political power between Republicans and Democrats in Florida became a source of controversy in the 2000 presidential election when it became clear that Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes would determine whether Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore would win the presidency.
The official Florida state vote count eventually declared Bush the winner by the scant margin of just 537 votes out of a total of six million ballots cast, but Gore decided to challenge the legitimacy of that vote count, and demanded a manual recount, based upon the fact that Florida’s punch card voting system created many ballots whose voter intent was unclear and subject to interpretation.
For the next month, the outcome of the presidential election remained undetermined, as lawyers for Bush and Gore argued in state and federal courts over the method for determining how the ambiguous punch card votes with “hanging chads” should by counted. The controversy finally ended on December 12, 2000, when the US Supreme Court found that the rules governing the recounts were being inconsistent applied from county to county, and ordered the outcome of initial state count, giving Bush the presidency, to be certified as the final result.
Until last week, national elections in Florida since 2000 had remained breathtakingly close, with many races for state and national offices often being decided by just a handful of votes. For example, in 2018, conservative Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis defeated liberal Democrat Andrew Gillum in the election for governor by a margin of just 0.4%, and Republican Rick Scott won a Florida seat in the Senate over Democrat Bill Nelson by an even smaller 0.12% margin.
THANKS TO DESANTIS, FLORIDA IS NOW A RED STATE
However, during his past four years as Florida’s activist and high-profile governor, DeSantis has succeeded in dramatically transforming the balance of political power in the state in favor of the Republicans.
DeSantis gained national attention by refusing to go along with most of the highly restrictive measures adopted by the federal government in reaction to Covid-19. He was quick to put an end to the mandatory statewide business lockdowns and school shutdowns which paralyzed the rest of the country, making such restrictions optional at the discretion of local officials. While normal life had ground to a halt in the rest of the country due to arbitrary pandemic restrictions, DeSantis boasted that Florida was largely open for business as usual, and invited people living in lockdowns across the country to come to Florida to enjoy its relative freedom.
The Florida governor also rejected the concept pushed by Democrats of requiring people to carry “vaccine passports” to go about their normal daily activities, and rejected mask mandates and other unnecessary Covid-related restrictions. He also fought liberal-dominated local school boards to keep Florida’s schools open.
The response was dramatic. Individuals and companies seeking to escape the Covid restrictions began voting with their feet, moving to Florida in record numbers. Most of those 394,000 pandemic refugees were registered Republican voters, who changed the balance of political power in the state and gave the GOP a clear advantage. And while the lockdowns in other parts of the country threw the national economy into a sharp recession, Florida’s economy was booming thanks to the investment capital and creativity that individuals and businesses seeking to escape the pandemic restrictions elsewhere brought with them.
DeSantis openly defied federal Covid restrictions and mandates as an unwarranted attempt by government to subjugate the remaining freedoms of the American people, through the creation of a “biomedical security state.” He also argued that when the government forces workers to take a vaccine they don’t want in order to keep their jobs, it violated both their individual liberties and human dignity.
DESANTIS DEFIES PRESIDENT BIDEN
Biden administration officials warned that DeSantis’ rejection of many of their proposed Covid restrictions would lead to a deadly spike in new Covid cases, overwhelming Florida’s hospitals and creating a health emergency. But in fact, Florida fared no worse in that respect than other states where the Covid restrictions had been put in place.
The repeated attacks on DeSantis’ relaxed Covid policies in the pro-Biden mainstream media only served to make the Florida governor into the most prominent government official in the nation speaking out for a far less restrictive approach to dealing with the pandemic.
DeSantis also took up the cause of parents who objected to the liberal takeover of school boards and the change in curricula with the goal of indoctrinating young children with radical liberal ideologies. He struck back at the Walt Disney Company when it began to publicly criticize the new Florida law which prevented liberal school teachers from brainwashing their young students with extreme “woke” concepts. DeSantis effectively retaliated by eliminating the special tax benefits which Disney’s many tourist facilities in Florida had long enjoyed.
The Sunshine State governor also demonstrated his objections to the Biden administration’s open border policies. He generated national headlines by arranging flights of newly arrived illegal immigrants into elite strongholds such as Martha’s Vineyard, forcing Democrat liberals to deal with the harsh realities created by their self-righteous “sanctuary cities” policies.
DESANTIS IS THE NEW GOP MODEL FOR VICTORY
While Donald Trump and his supporters remain obsessed with their backward-looking claims that the former president was robbed of victory in the 2020 election by Democrat voter fraud, DeSantis was looking forward. His statements and policies have showed the many ways that a creative conservative Republican governor can effectively fight extreme liberal policies on the state and national level, while keeping the citizens in his state both prosperous and free.
The full extent of the success of DeSantis’ policies became apparent last week after Florida voters gave him and his Republican supporters an unprecedented mandate in the midterm elections. The Democrats had chosen a former Florida governor, Charlie Crist, to run against DeSantis. But Florida voters overwhelmingly rejected Christ and gave DeSantis an astounding 19-point victory. In addition, DeSantis gave a strong boost to his running mate, Senator Marco Rubio, who was also facing a formidable challenger, Democrat Congresswoman Val Demings, in his bid for re-election. Riding DeSantis’ political coattails, Rubio beat Demings by 16 points.
DeSantis demonstrated the breadth of his voter appeal by winning in the traditional Democrat strongholds of South Florida. He carried Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest, where 70% of the voters are Hispanic. He also flipped Palm Beach County, famous for its luxurious resorts and vacation homes catering to some of the richest people in the world.
DeSantis’ impressive ability to persuade voters to cross their traditional party lines to support him offers an alternative model for Republican candidates rejected by voters last week because they had associated themselves too closely with Trump’s provocative personality and his attacks challenging the fairness of this country’s electoral systems.
TRUMP POLICIES WITHOUT THE DRAMA AND CONTROVERSY
Governor Ron DeSantis supports the same America First conservative policy goals and traditional moral values as Trump does, but without the self-centered hype, ego, and controversy which disqualified Trump as a responsible national leader in the eyes of most independent voters and some moderate Republicans as well.
Donald Trump’s political highpoint was his masterful 2016 presidential campaign, confounding the pundits and inflicting a totally unexpected defeat on Hillary Clinton and her Democrat supporters. But Trump’s moment in history has passed, voter familiarity with his disruptive governing style has bred contempt, and he is now a clear liability to the Republican party.
Even though most American voters are deeply unhappy with the Biden administration’s many policy failures, they could not bring themselves to support the Republican candidates, despite — or because of — Trump’s endorsement. While they may still support many of Trump’s successful economic and foreign policy approaches, it is thought that voters do not want to see the country torn apart again by his bombastic and disruptive style.
On the other hand, DeSantis offers Republican candidates a new path to victory in future national elections — governing based upon sound conservative policies, but without the constant turmoil that surrounded Trump.