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Takeaways From a Night of Firsts and Defied Expectations

UMD Expert Explains What Midterms Mean for Biden, How Democrats Did Well and the Historic Slate of Maryland Winners

By Liam Farrell

Wes Moore celebrates at podium

Democrat Wes Moore celebrates his victory Tuesday night in the Maryland governor’s race with, from left to right, his daughter, Mia; U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen; Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller; his son, Jamie; state comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman; and attorney general-elect Anthony Brown.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Despite economic headwinds, Democratic candidates so far have surpassed expectations in yesterday’s midterm elections, holding ground in congressional races and picking up offices at the state and local levels, including notching a historic first in Maryland.

Predictions of Republicans easily retaking both chambers of Congress in a “red wave” were refuted by early returns–meaning President Joe Biden may not suffer the same sort of losses as President Bill Clinton in 1994 or President Barack Obama in 2010.

With many tight races nationwide still undecided, Maryland Today spoke with David Karol, an associate professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Government and Politics, about why Democrats did better than anticipated, how a change in Congress could alter Biden’s agenda, and why Maryland’s top offices all went back into Democratic hands.

Why do you think Democrats were able to beat expectations?
Normally, what happens is the opposition party is angry and mobilized, and the president’s party is more blasé. I think that tendency was counteracted to some extent by the abortion issue and concerns about American democracy.

That’s big picture stuff that was in play generally. You get to specific races, there are weak Republican candidates and some of that had to do with Donald Trump’s intervention in primaries–he tried to boost Mehmet Oz, who lost in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona. They may all lose, and those are winnable races.

What was the most surprising result?
Tony Evers, the (Democratic) governor of Wisconsin–I didn’t think he was going to make it. That’s an important win because Wisconsin is a battleground state and there is concern about the administration of the 2024 presidential election. It looks like his veto can be sustained by the Democrats. It’s not the most glamorous or high-profile race, but Wisconsin has been so hotly contested for everything.

How would narrow majorities in either direction affect Biden’s agenda for next two years?
If the Democrats win either Nevada or Georgia, or both, and hold the Senate, that’s very important. Biden has been naming judges at a pretty rapid clip and diversifying the federal judiciary like no president before him. Even if he doesn’t have the opportunity to name another Supreme Court justice, the other federal courts are important. If the Democrats do not hold the Senate, he would get almost no judges through. On the House side, even the narrowest of Republican majorities would block almost all of what Biden wants to do legislatively. Democrats beat expectations, but beating the spread is not the same thing as being able to legislate. It also means investigations and subpoena power, and they would use this to do as much as possible to embarrass the Biden administration.

Do GOP losses by Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania show the limits of Trump’s support in battlegrounds?
There’s a difference between a primary and a general election. Trump’s support was crucial for Oz, who barely won the primary. In a primary, Trump is an asset for a Republican candidate. In the general, not so much.

For Mastriano, I don’t think his problem in the general election was he was tied to Trump. He was an extremist, he couldn’t raise money, he had very little media—in a way, it says something about polarization that he got as many votes as he did.

In Maryland, Wes Moore was voted in as Maryland’s first Black governor and Aruna Miller is the first immigrant and Asian American lieutenant governor. They will be joined by Brooke Lierman, the first female comptroller and woman elected directly to statewide office, and Anthony Brown as the state’s first Black attorney general. What is the significance of those victories?
Maryland is a Democratic leaning state and it’s a very diverse state, so the Democratic ticket reflects that. Its victory should not be surprising. What was surprising was Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s success, and he had a formula—distancing himself from the national Republican party, taking some moderate stances like supporting the Purple Line. His approach was repudiated in the Republican primary when Dan Cox, who was Trump’s candidate, beat Governor Hogan’s candidate, Kelly Schulz. The election for governor was decided on primary night.

What are the implications of abortion rights winning on the ballot in places like Michigan and Kentucky?
There’s a distinction between how people vote on an issue and how they vote for candidates who take stands on that issue. When Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, is put on the ballot in red states, it wins. Minimum wage increases win, too. Those are both Democratic policies. But that doesn’t mean a Democratic candidate for president or Senate who supports those policies will win those states. The question for policies like abortion is not just are people for this, but are they voting on this in a race between candidates, too.



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