The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 06:09

A Brief Overview of the US Midterm Elections

Midterm elections (so called because they are in the middle of the sitting President’s term) took place on the 8th of November. A variety of positions were contested in the midterms, including state governors, members of the House of Representatives (also known as Congress) and members of the Senate.

Midterms are traditionally seen as a barometer of the popularity of the incumbent President and so they are assigned great importance. As Senate and Congressional seats are up for grabs, it is possible that the opposition party can gain a majority in both chambers and gain the ability to disrupt the agenda of the ruling President. This happened in the 2018 midterms during Trump’s presidency, when Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives (although Republicans maintained their Senatorial majority) and used this to oppose Trump.

Naturally, some contests will gain more attention than others, either because they involve prominent figures or are of greater political consequence. Below is a brief overview of some of the more noteworthy races during these midterms.

Senate

Fetterman vs Oz (Pennsylvania)

The most expensive contest in these midterms, the race between John Fetterman (the former Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania) and Mehmet Oz (a celebrity TV doctor and former cardiothoracic surgeon) was bitterly fought. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May of this year, when he was racing ahead of his rival in the polls. His subsequent recovery process and attacks from him from his rivals on his capability to serve as a Senator saw the race become much closer.

However the result was a resounding success for Fetterman. He won 51% of the vote, compared to his rival Oz who won 46%. Donald Trump heavily backed Oz both financially and publicly and his failure to beat Fetterman will see Trump’s political acumen questioned by other Republicans.

Warnock vs Walker (Georgia)

The contest between Raphael Warnock (Democratic) and Herschel Walker (Republican) is too close to call, meaning a ‘run off’ election will be necessary. As neither candidate cleared 50% of the vote (which is required under Georgia state law), then another month of campaigning will be necessary before another election day in December. Georgia voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the first time the state has been won by a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992. It has begun to lean more Democratic in recent years, partially thanks to the mobilisation of Black voters by voting outreach activists.

A former professional American footballer, Walker has no political experience and has been embroiled in various controversies during the race, including a history of alledged domestic violence, exaggeration of his business success and bizarre statements and gaffes. He is backed by Donald Trump.

Warnock is one of the incumbent Senators for Georgia, having won the seat in 2021 in eerily similar circumstances (beating Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler in a run-off election). He is the first African-American to represent Georgia in the Senate and outside of politics serves as a pastor.

Kelly vs Masters (Arizona)

Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate, has defeated the Republican Blake Masters, a result which alongside Catherine Cortez Masto winning in Nevada, confirms that the Democrats will maintain their Senatorial majority. Kelly, a former astronaut, took a more middle-of-the-road approach compared to his rival Masters, a venture capitalist with links to billionaire Peter Thiel who was supported by Trump, who espoused conspiracy theories such as the great replacement theory and that the Biden campaign practised electoral fraud in 2020.

Whilst supporting access to abortion (which is a popular stance according to polling), Kelly took a less lenient stance on migration across the Mexican border into the US. He appeared to distance himself from the Biden administration on the issue, calling it a ‘mess’ and supporting more physical infrastructure at the border to prevent crossings. His moderate stances, aimed at independent voters who are not loyal to one particular party, appears to have been a success. Arizona has historically been a reliably Republican state, but Kelly’s victory, along with the close race between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake for state governor, shows that Arizona is now a ‘purple’ battleground.

Governors

Abbott vs O’Rourke (Texas)

Greg Abbott (Republican) handily beat Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke to the governorship of Texas. Abbott, who has been Texas governor since 2015, saw off the challenge from O’Rourke by a 10% margin. O’Rourke has been touted as a rising star of the Democratic Party but has failed in his last two attempts in Texas, losing out on a Senate seat to Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterms. Alongside an abortive presidential campaign in 2020, some observers have begun to wonder if O’Rourke’s popularity with young people will translate into political success.

Texas is still a ‘red’ (meaning Republican) state for now, but in recent years Democrats have made electoral inroads, especially in the southern regions that border Mexico and in the cities of Houston, Austin and Dallas. It has been speculated that changing demographics could yet see the state become ‘blue’ (meaning Democratic) but this has yet to occur and, at least for now, Republicans appear to be the stronger party in Texas.

DeSantis vs Crist (Florida)

Ron DeSantis, seen by some as a potential Republican nominee for President in 2024, enjoyed a blowout success against Charlie Crist for the Governorship of Florida, winning 59% of the vote compared to Crist’s 40%. DeSantis is the incumbent governor and enjoyed massive financial backing compared to Crist, which will have undoubtedly helped him over the victory line. Crist himself has served as Governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican, but switched to the Democrats in 2012 and served as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives.

Republicans have enjoyed success in Florida during these midterms and DeSantis flipped many reliably Democratic areas, such as Miami-Dade county. Fighting on so-called culture war issues, such as trans rights, critical race theory and vaccine and mask mandates has obviously bore fruit for DeSantis. However, if he wishes to run for President in 2024 on the Republican ticket, he faces stiff opposition from Donald Trump. Although many of the candidates Trump backed in these midterms have been unsuccessful, he still enjoys strong support amongst the Republican Party base and will be a formidable opponent for DeSantis to overcome in the Republican presidential primaries.

Congress

Republicans made crucial gains in the race to win the majority in the House of Representatives. In Florida they won races in historically safe Democrat seats, such as in Miami which has a large Latino population. However they have still not won an outright majority even in the face of Democrat losses. Democrats have performed much better than expected and it appears the forecasted ‘red wave’ has not come to pass. In fact the Democrats have made inroads into historically Republican states, winning congressional races in districts in Arizona (which Biden won in 2020) and Texas. However, Republicans are still projected to win the majority of seats in Congress, although they will likely fall short of the required 218 seats to form a majority. As not all results have finished counting, it remains to be seen who will ultimately gain control.

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