The Political Report – November 18, 2022

“Republicans seized a slender majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, a delayed yet consequential finish to the 2022 midterm elections that will reorder the balance of power in Washington and is expected to effectively give the party a veto on President Biden’s agenda for the next two years,” the New York Times reports.

“With vote counting stretching for over a week, the Republican Party formally captured the 218 House seats needed to claim the majority after just four years out of power. The outcomes in several close races that remain undecided will determine the final size of a slim Republican majority that will be far narrower than party leaders had expected, though Republicans still cheered the achievement.”

NBC News: “Instead, the results revealed an America still torn over former President Donald Trump, his repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him and how the country and the GOP should move forward. In several close races, voters cited the economy and inflation as their top concerns, but it wasn’t enough to power Republicans to a decisive sweep after Trump effectively made the elections a referendum on himself and his past and future plans as the de facto leader of the party.”

Republicans retook the House on Wednesday after winning California’s 27th Congressional District and, with it, control over at least 218 seats, ending four years of Democratic majorities. While Democrats will still hold the presidency and Senate, the GOP’s House takeover has ended two years of unified Democratic governance in Washington. Many factors made the difference for what’s guaranteed to be a very narrow GOP majority, but among the most consequential for democracy is that Republicans almost certainly owe their majority to gerrymandering.

In a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2019, every GOP-appointed justice voted over the opposition of every Democratic appointee to prohibit federal courts from curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts disingenuously argued that judicial intervention wasn’t needed partly because Congress itself could end gerrymandering, at least federally. But following the 2020 elections, every Republican in Congress voted to block a bill supported by every Democrat to ban congressional gerrymandering nationwide, which failed when Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin refused to also curtail the GOP’s filibuster to pass the measure.

Consequently, as shown in this map, Republicans were able to draw roughly four out of every 10 congressional districts after the 2020 census—three times as many as Democrats drew. After Republicans blocked Democrats from ending gerrymandering nationally, Democrats largely refused to disarm unilaterally and gerrymandered where they could, just as the GOP did. Republicans, however, had ma​​​​​​ny more opportunities, in large part because state courts struck down a map passed by New York Democrats and replaced it with a nonpartisan map.

By contrast, the Supreme Court and judges in Florida allowed GOP gerrymanders to remain in place for 2022 in four states even though lower courts found that they discriminated against Black voters as litigation continues. Had Republicans been required to redraw these maps to remedy their discrimination, Black Democrats would have been all but assured of winning four more seats, possibly enough to cost the GOP its majority on their own. And in Ohio, Republicans were able to keep using their map for 2022 even though the state Supreme Court ruled it was an illegal partisan gerrymander, potentially costing Democrats another two seats.

Had Republicans in Congress—or their allies on the courts—not blocked Democratic-backed efforts to end gerrymandering nationally and ensure every state draws fair maps, Democrats would likely be enjoying two more years with full control over the federal government and the ability to pass a number of important policies. But because Republicans at the national level and in state after state chose to preserve their power to gerrymander, that outcome will no longer happen.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. Failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R) was at Mar-a-Lago today, the New York Times reports. Lake said in a new video that she was putting together a legal team to “correct the many wrongs” in the election she narrowly lost to Katie Hobbs (D).

“Kari Lake’s defeat in the governor’s race in Arizona has set off a high-stakes tug of war within the Republican Party, as Ms. Lake’s right-wing allies pushed her to mount a Trump-style challenge to the results, while some establishment leaders — including a former Republican governor — urged her to concede her loss and move on,” the New York Times reports.

“Ms. Lake’s next move could prove a turning point for her party and the far-right faction of election deniers that propelled her rapid rise this year.”

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) said Republican Herschel Walker “crossed a line” ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff when he escalated his personal attacks against his rival by accusing the Democrat of being a negligent father to his two young children, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Said Warnock: “I know that politics is ugly. People play all kinds of games, unfortunately. But Herschel Walker and his allies have crossed a line where my family is concerned.”

He added: “I want to set the record straight: My children live with me. I am present with my children in every way that a father should be, from breakfast in the morning to bedtime prayers at night. I can’t continue to let him lie about our family.”

Meanwhile, Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) called vampires “cool people” during a campaign speech. Does he think they are real? And if he does, he thinks nightmarish undead blood suckers are “cool people?”

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff as a Toss Up.  “Democrats could run the Senate more smoothly if they can get a ‘real’ majority of 51.”

“But the primary importance of the runoff is electoral: Democrats could really use an extra buffer seat as they try to hang on in a couple of years.”

LOS ANGELES MAYOR. “Rep. Karen Bass’ already substantial lead in the Los Angeles mayor’s race got even larger Tuesday, with the longtime Washington lawmaker pulling more than 5% ahead of businessman Rick Caruso, one week after election day,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

CA-27: Multiple media outlets called the race in California’s 27th District for Republican Rep. Mike Garcia on Wednesday evening, giving the GOP a majority of at least 218 seats in the House. With several races still outstanding, the final size of that majority has yet to be determined, but it will be small—and much smaller than most politicians, operatives, and prognosticators expected heading into election night.

Garcia fended off Democrat Christy Smith in what was the two candidates’ third straight matchup. With an estimated 73% of the vote tallied, Garcia led Smith, a former Assemblywoman, by a 54-46 margin. The two first met in a 2020 special election that Garcia won 55-45, then faced off in a much closer rematch that fall that saw Garcia squeak out a 333-vote victory. Despite that tight race, D.C. Democrats seemed to have little faith in Smith for this third bout, spending virtually nothing on her campaign; national Republicans, by contrast, were confident in Garcia, making only relatively small outlays on his behalf.

The congressman, however, will be a top Democratic target in 2024, presumably with a different foe. According to calculations from Daily Kos Elections, his district in the suburbs north of Los Angeles would have voted for Joe Biden by a 55-43 margin, making it one of the bluest seats held by a Republican.

ME-02: Democratic Rep. Jared Golden confirmed his victory over the Republican he unseated in 2018, Bruce Poliquin, when election officials tabulated the results of the instant runoff in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, a rural seat in the northern part of the state that Trump took 52-46.

Golden led 48-45 when it came to first choice preferences while independent Tiffany Bond secured the remaining 7%; the congressman prevailed 53-47 in the second and final round of tabulations. Poliquin was the last New England Republican in the House before Golden beat him four years ago, and his second defeat maintains Team Red’s shutout in the region.

Major outside groups on both sides treated this contest as one of the top House races in the nation, and they deployed their resources accordingly. Altogether the four largest groups involved in House races dropped $19.4 million here: The only seats that attracted more outside spending were California’s 22nd, which is unresolved, and Michigan’s 7th, where Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin won re-election.

Poliquin himself campaigned as an ardent ally of ultra-conservative Paul LePage, the former governor who was waging his own comeback by taking on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. Poliquin was correct that LePage would carry the 2nd District, but he didn’t do well enough to secure victory for either one of them. LePage, who once called himself “​​Trump before Trump,” instead ran several points behind MAGA’s master by taking the seat only 50-47 according to Daily Kos Elections calculations: Mills more than made up for that by carrying Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree’s 1st 63-36, which powered her to a 55-43 statewide blowout.

LePage’s performance in the 2nd would still have put Poliquin over the top if the former congressman had been able to secure all of LePage’s voters or appeal to enough Mills backers, but that’s very much not what happened. Golden once again touted himself as an independent-minded congressman and emphasized his time in the Marines, an approach he used to win over crossover voters during his last two campaigns. Golden also made sure to run ads where members of the Maine Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that supported LePage, praised him as “a different type of Democrat.”

Poliquin, for his part, never accepted his defeat from four years ago, and he kicked off his comeback attempt in 2021 by claiming, “Head-to-head, you know, I beat Golden in 2018, and God willing, I will do it again next year.” Poliquin had led Golden 49-47 among first-choice voter preferences on election night as Bond and another contender took the balance, but that wasn’t enough under the 2016 voter-approved ranked-choice law. Golden ended up prevailing 50.6-49.4 once votes were assigned to subsequent preferences as minor candidates were eliminated, a result that made Poliquin the first incumbent to lose re-election in the 2nd District since 1916.

The ousted congressman, though, responded by filing a lawsuit arguing that the ranked choice law violated the Constitution. Poliquin’s suit was frivolous, and both the district court and an appellate court emphatically rejected his legal arguments since nothing in the Constitutional provisions he cited came close to barring the use of ranked-choice voting, which several states have used for overseas and military voters for years to comply with federal law regarding absentee ballots.

Poliquin ultimately dropped all his legal challenges a full seven weeks after Election Day but continued to pretend he was the rightful victor, falsely claiming that he’d won “the constitutional” vote and that victory was denied by a “black box computer algorithm” for an “illegal” election. Poliquin in 2022 refused to say if he’d accept another such defeat, though Golden’s plurality win made the matter moot.

Poliquin, though, didn’t hate ranked choice voting quite enough to give up any hope that it could give him the win after Election Day. On Sunday the Republican wrote, “Regardless of how this week’s rank choice ballot counting ends up for my race, President Joe Biden and the Democrats continue to control all the levers of power in Washington until noon on January 3 when the new Republican majority in the U.S. House is sworn in.”

PA State House: Pennsylvania Democrats declared victory in a crucial race for the state House on Wednesday after additional ballots were tallied, reversing what had been a 12-vote lead for Republican Todd Stephens and putting Democrat Missy Cerrato ahead by 37 votes in the 151st District. If Cerrato’s advantage holds up, she’ll give Democrats 102 seats in the 203-member chamber, setting the stage for state Rep. Joanna McClinton to become the first Black woman to serve as House speaker and capping a stunning election night that saw Democrats flip the 12 seats they needed to win their first majority in more than a decade.

Republicans, meanwhile, have moved into a small lead in the 142nd District, another seat in the Philly suburbs. However, even if Republican Joseph Hogan hangs on to defeat Democrat Mark Moffa, the best the GOP can hope for in the next session of the legislature is 101 seats—a minority. But it may yet be some time before we have final resolution for both races, as recounts and legal challenges are likely.

Los Angeles County, CA Sheriff: There will literally be a new sheriff in town for America’s most-populous county now that conservative incumbent Alex Villanueva has conceded to former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. The challenger leads 60-40 with 70% of the Associated Press’ estimated vote in for this officially nonpartisan race.

Villanueva made history in 2018 when he became the first Democrat to hold this office in 138 years, but while he still identifies as “​​a Democrat of the party of JFK and FDR,” he’s established a very different image in office. Villanueva instead has become a Fox News regular who, among many other things, has raged against the “woke left.” The sheriff’s department also has been at the center of numerous scandals, including allegations that deputies have organized themselves into violent gangs. Luna, for his part, changed his voter registration from Republican to no party preference in 2018 before becoming a Democrat two years later.

Luna’s win came the same night that voters overwhelmingly passed Measure A, which allows four of the five members of the county Board of Supervisors to oust a sheriff. The Board placed the measure on the ballot after four years of confrontations with Villanueva, whose office carried out a search on Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in September.

The sheriff’s opponents immediately blasted the move as mere retaliation against Kuehl, and state Attorney General Rob Bonta ordered Villanueva’s department to “cease its investigative activity and refrain from any actions in furtherance of these investigations, including public statements or court filings related to the investigations.”

CA-09: Democratic Rep. Josh Harder has fended off San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti in a Stockton area seat that’s largely new to him. Harder leads his Republican rival 56-44 with 79% of the Associated Press’ estimated vote tabulated in this 55-43 Biden district.

CA-21: While Democratic Rep. Jim Costa has struggled in past midterms, he’s clearly defeated Republican Michael Maher in this 59-39 Biden constituency in the Fresno area. Costa leads 55-45 with 84% of the estimated vote in.

Axios: “[Trump] was less sure of the sweeping “red wave” that was being promised, and he persistently suspected abortion would be more of a problem for Republicans that his advisers thought it would be.”

“Trump also privately discounted GOP strategists who thought John Fetterman’s debate performance was fatal to his chances in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Trump thought Fetterman would do better than many people expected because ‘people would feel bad for him.’”

Jamelle Bouie: “For all of the drama of this election — and for all of its very real stakes — it’s also true that 2022 is yet another cycle in which the overall electoral picture changed less than you might imagine. There was no landslide, no decisive victory for one side over the other. The same was true in 2020: Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump has to be balanced against significant defeats in the House. Even 2018 — an ostensible “wave” election — saw something of a split decision, with a Democratic victory in the House of Representatives and a Republican win in the Senate.”

“Go back to 2016, or 2012, and you’ll see the same: an almost evenly divided country, where no advance — and no retreat — moves farther than a few feet.”

Ballot Access News: “If one calculates the vote for each major party candidate for the office at the top of the ballot in 2022, one finds that Republicans would have got the most popular votes.”

“But applying those same results to the electoral vote for each state, Democrats would have won the electoral vote 280 to 258.”

Washington Post: “Voters across the country shifted toward Republicans in the midterm elections — veering further right in areas won by former president Donald Trump and also tacking rightward in nearly all districts won by President Biden.”

“House Republicans, however, picked up only a small number of seats.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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