America’s midterm elections, which left control of the Congress in doubt with several House and Senate seats still to be decided after a full day of ballot-counting, nevertheless marked a good day for democracy, President Joe Biden said Wednesday.
“Our democracy has been tested in recent years, but with their votes, the American people have spoken and proven once again that democracy is who we are,” Biden told reporters during a wide-ranging 53-minute news conference at the White House.
The president characterized his Democratic Party as having done better than expected against the Republicans and announced he will invite leaders of both parties to the White House after he returns from the G-20 meetings in Indonesia to discuss how to work together on economic and national security priorities.
U.S. political fortunes were still in limbo Wednesday, with control of both chambers in Congress uncertain pending vote counting that could extend for days in too-close-to-call contests.
Before Tuesday’s nationwide elections, most pollsters predicted opposition Republicans would claim control of the House and possibly the Senate, leaving Republican officials confident they would be able to thwart Biden’s policy aspirations for the second half of his four-year term in the White House.
The Senate now is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. But in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Democrats flipped control of the Republican-held seat in the eastern state of Pennsylvania, while the outcome remained uncertain in three other states – Arizona and Nevada in the western part of the United States, and Georgia in the South.
Thirty-five of the Senate’s 100 seats were at stake.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman claimed a soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat, defeating his Republican opponent, celebrity television doctor Mehmet Oz, who would have become the Senate’s first Muslim member.
In Georgia, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock held a narrow edge over his Republican opponent, former college and professional football star Herschel Walker. But with a third candidate in the race winning 2% of the vote, the eventual outcome was headed to a Dec. 6 runoff since neither Warnock nor Walker reached the 50% threshold needed to win.
The same uncertainty remains in the House of Representatives that is now narrowly controlled by Democrats. As of Wednesday afternoon, Republicans appeared more likely to gain a 218-seat majority in the 435-member chamber, having won 206 seats compared to the Democrats’ 183. There are more than 40 contests to be decided.
All of the House seats were at stake in Tuesday’s voting.
Numerous Republican officials had predicted a red wave of victories. When that did not materialize, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the likely new House speaker if Republicans control the chamber, delayed an election night speech.
Finally, addressing subdued supporters in the wee hours of Wednesday, he said, “It is clear we’re going to take the House back. When we wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and [current House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority.”
In his remarks, he ignored the fact that Democrats had a much better night than had been expected.
Biden watched election returns Tuesday night at the White House and called victorious Democrats to congratulate them.
In some states, election officials cautioned it could be days before the outcome is known, as envelopes with mailed-in ballots postmarked by Election Day are laboriously opened and then counted.
No matter the eventual vote counts, the outcome was certain to defy U.S. political history in which the party of a first-term president — in this case the Democrats — often loses large numbers of House seats in what is seen as voters’ rebuke of political overreach by a new president.
Democratic President Bill Clinton lost 54 House seats to Republicans in 1994, and Democratic President Barack Obama lost 63 in 2010. Republican President George W. Bush won eight seats in 2002 while enjoying broad support in the aftermath of the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Preliminary figures indicate that around 115 million votes were cast in the midterm elections, according to an estimate by the United States Elections Project. The figure is likely to increase as the remaining votes are tallied. By comparison, more than 122 million people voted in the last midterm elections in 2018.
Voters in many states also had questions on their ballots, including the legal status of abortion, sports betting and marijuana. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont approved initiatives enshrining abortion rights in the states’ constitutions, while voters in the southeastern state of Kentucky rejected a ballot initiative that would have barred abortion in the state, even as they reelected an abortion opponent, Senator Rand Paul.
Maryland voters elected its first Black governor, Democrat Wes Moore, and decided to make cannabis legal. But in several other states, similar proposals appear headed for defeat.
History was also made in Massachusetts, where Democrat Maura Healey will become the state’s first female governor and the country’s first openly lesbian chief executive of a state.
In Arkansas, former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, was elected governor, as expected. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served as governor of the state for a decade.
No voter irregularities
Election Day was mostly smooth throughout the country. But officials in two Republican-controlled states, Missouri and Florida, refused to let federal Justice Department officials inside polling locations to monitor voting for possible rights violations. Top election officials for the two states questioned the department’s authority to have observers inside precincts.
Both Republican and Democratic parties monitored polls in many places across the United States to watch for any perceived irregularities, although actual fraud in U.S. elections is minuscule. The Justice Department also monitored compliance with federal voting rights laws in 24 states other than Missouri and Florida.
Economy, abortion on voters’ minds
In a recent Pew Research Center poll, more than three-quarters of U.S. voters said the economy was their top concern this election. Exit polling on Election Day showed the rapid increase in consumer prices was the top issue for 32% of voters, but abortion rights were the primary concern for 27% of voters, with other concerns, such as crime and immigration, trailing far behind.
“The interest rates, the housing market, the price of gas, you know, you’re noticing in the grocery stores food is very, very expensive, and there’s items that you can’t even find anymore. It’s a huge, huge concern,” Amanda Douglas, a voter in the southeastern state of Georgia, told VOA.
After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June ending the national right to abortion, social issues also motivated some voters.
“I think everybody should have access to health care [regardless of] what your personal views are on Roe v. Wade or abortion,” Georgia voter Theresa Allmend told VOA.