Democracy dodges a bullet, for now…

In the end there was no red wave, but after a dramatic evening of midterm results, control of both houses of Congress – and by extension the future of democracy – still hangs in the balance.

Apart from a win for JD Vance in Ohio – more of which later – it was a bad night for Donald Trump-endorsed candidates in high-profile races; and potentially a really bad night for Kevin McCarthy as Republican expectations of an overwhelming House majority evaporated. (Don’t forget, though, that a majority of just one is still a majority, while enough election-deniers managed to actually win to ensure disruption at various levels of government across the country).

It was, however, a very good night for Florida Gov Ron DeSantis, setting up not just some internal GOP soul-searching – leading to calls for Trump to delay his planned 2024 announcement – but also some serious consideration of what a DeSantis v Trump primary might look like.

DeSantis’s advantage – and leverage within the party – right now extends far beyond his win and apparently turning Florida into a solid red state behind mobilizing Latino voters. If the GOP end up with control of the House, he can take some credit for that because of his aggressive approach to re-districting – an issue that is certainly going to resonate in other states ahead of 2024.

Mostly, though, DeSantis can sit back now and watch the GOP turn on Trump, then force Republicans to choose between a serial loser and someone who, while untested outside their own state, can market themselves as a younger, smarter version of the party’s cult idol. In short, if we’re looking for the past 24 hours in a single sentence, it’s probably that what’s left of the “moderate” Republican party finally started to turn against crazy, but where that leads still isn’t sure.

Talking of leverage, Trump’s biggest asset is still the loyalty of his base and the threat to run as an independent, so it will remain to be seen how important the GOP establishment thinks it is to prevent him doing that – especially if a primary campaign against DeSantis doesn’t go his way.

Just as Florida now seems to be solidly in the Republican column, Ohio similarly went largely red. Tim Ryan came up short in his race against JD Vance (who interestingly didn’t mention Donald Trump in his acceptance speech, despite the former president’s endorsement and rally for him the night before election day).

In a Q&A earlier this season, Keith Herrell told me a Vance victory was the likely outcome. “I’ll go out on a limb and say a Republican will win it, unless Sherrod Brown can clone himself and enter the race – and even then he’d face a stiff task.”

When I spent some time in Cleveland, Lynne Sherwin outlined the problems the state faces going forward with re-districting: “Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment to fix the gerrymandering problem, and Republicans still managed to thwart it by basically stalling the process with unconstitutional maps that got rejected over and over until it was too late to draw any more. Incredibly discouraging, especially if the state Supreme Court composition changes; a principled Republican joined the Democrats in rejecting the maps, but she is term-limited this year, and the state legislature will be right back at it hoping to get lousy maps past the court for 2024.”

Lynne also mentioned her support for Emilia Sykes in her district, who in a bright spot for Ohio Democrats on election night, won her House race.

Elsewhere, Pennsylvania decided it would rather be represented in the Senate by a dude who’s had a stroke than a TV snake-oil salesman; while Josh Shapiro may have single-handedly saved democracy in the state, pending some kind of Hail Mary legal challenge by extremist GOP candidate Doug Mastriano.

Likewise, Arizona looks like it could be setting up to be a legal minefield if pro-Trump gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake ends up losing. Washington won’t miss Lauren Boebert, whose House race in Colorado is on a knife-edge, but we can expect the re-elected Marjorie Taylor Greene to out-Boebert her any chance she gets.

If the Georgia Senate race goes to a run-off on Dec 6, a lot of Republicans who voted for Brian Kemp for Governor but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Herschel Walker may likely hold their nose if that one vote represents the tiebreaker for control of the upper chamber, so we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Turnout was big, but across the board appeared lower than at the previous midterms, even if voter enthusiasm exceeded 2018 in some states. In others, it was more patchy. In Mississippi and West Virginia, for example, less than 35 percent of eligible voters participated, according to the Washington Post. Independents appeared to have broken for Democrats, albeit slightly.

Young voters proved particularly important, with an estimated 27 per cent of voters (of roughly 52million eligible) aged between 18 and 29 casting a vote, apparently the second-highest youth turnout in any midterms. The nation’s first Gen-Z candidate, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, was elected to the House from Florida. He tweeted: “Half of Gen-Z isn’t even old enough to vote yet. Over the coming years, we’ll see the youth vote become even more of a force to be reckoned with. What we want is bold transformational change.”

The motivational power to galvanize particularly women voters by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade was manifested in three states where abortion rights were endorsed by solid majorities. In Massachusetts, Maura Healey became the state’s first woman Governor and the first lesbian in the nation’s history to hold that office.

It turns out the Dems’ missteps on messaging through the campaign were more than matched by the GOP’s arrogance and sense of entitlement. Democracy may have dodged a bullet in states like PA and Wisconsin – where the GOP gubernatorial candidate had said publicly that if he won “Republicans will never lose another election” in the state – but the warning lights are still, appropriately enough, blinking red.

Gretchen Whitmer was re-elected as Governor of Michigan, weeks after three men were convicted of a plot to kidnap her in hopes of triggering some kind of “civil war”.

Despite Joe Biden’s insistence that he plans to run for re-election, the Democrats will still have to address the combination of his sluggish approval ratings and age before the 2024 campaign gets going, unless the President does it himself. But then, Chuck Grassley just got re-elected to an eighth term at 89, so…

Where else can you get this sort of drama? Democracy rocks. Let’s keep it.

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