Updated Nov 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

7 important election night bellwethers

Illustration of a prize ribbon with abstract ballot elements in the background.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A handful of key races today will not only decide which party controls Congress for the next two years, but will also tell us a lot about where politics is going after the midterms.

The big picture: These bellwethers will indicate whether Republicans are gaining a foothold in parts of the country that have long eluded them, for example, and the types of Democrats who can win even when the odds would seem to be stacked against them.

1. The best early bellwether: Rep. Abigail Spanberger's (D-Va.) race against Republican Yesli Vega, in the exurbs outside Washington, D.C., will offer a clear early signal of the national political mood.

  • A pragmatic Democrat with a national security background, Spanberger has condemned her party's left wing early and often On Saturday, she was endorsed by vocal Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
  • Vega reflects the under-the-radar diversity of the GOP's recruiting class — a Latina candidate who serves as a county supervisor and has a law enforcement background.
  • Polls close in Virginia early (7 p.m. ET) and the state typically counts ballots quickly. Spanberger's early victory in 2018 foreshadowed the Democratic wave that year. If Republicans return the favor in 2022, it would be a sign of a wave in the opposite direction.

2. The most important county: Miami-Dade, Florida.

  • Republicans are confident that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio will comfortably win their re-elections, but the bigger dynamic to follow is their margin of victory in the state's most populous, majority-Hispanic county.
  • Miami-Dade County hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1988 and hasn't backed a GOP governor since 2002 (Jeb Bush). Rubio hasn't won an outright majority in his home county for his Senate races, either.
  • But both have a chance to win in Miami-Dade — result that would signal a GOP landslide and provide rocket fuel for a potential DeSantis presidential campaign.

3. The Democrat best-positioned to survive a red wave: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who is still running neck-and-neck against Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett.

  • Even as many Democratic colleagues in bluer territory look awfully vulnerable, Slotkin is holding her own in one of the most expensive House battlegrounds.
  • If Slotkin runs against the tide, she'll credit Liz Cheney's endorsement for pushing some suburban swing voters her way. But if Barrett defeats the two-term lawmaker, he'll be reflective of the new MAGA-aligned Republican majority.

4. The upset to watch: The New York governor's race.

  • It's hard to imagine deep-blue New York electing a Republican governor — especially one who has been closely aligned with former President Trump.
  • But Gov. Kathy Hochul's tone-deaf reaction to voters concerned about crime is giving Republican Lee Zeldin a fighting chance.

5. Rare Democratic bright spot: Kansas.

  • Kansas was one of the first signs of a backlash to aggressive abortion restrictions in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling this past summer.
  • Even as Democrats are struggling in some deep-blue states, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is running competitively against Republican state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, according to strategists from both parties.
  • Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), representing a suburban Kansas City district that Republicans drew to their favor in redistricting, is also in a strong position. A NYT/Siena poll this week showed Davids leading Republican Amanda Adkins by 15 points in a Biden +5 district.

6. The races that will settle the Mitch McConnell-Rick Scott feud: Arizona and New Hampshire.

  • The cash-flush, McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund decided not to spend in Arizona and pulled out of the New Hampshire race in October. The super PAC's reason: It was more important to spend in the races that will decide the Senate majority, rather than gambling on candidates who may be general-election liabilities.
  • Scott's allies, meanwhile, view McConnell as overly cautious and worry Republicans will miss an opportunity to take advantage of the GOP wave in two swing states, even with flawed nominees.
  • If Blake Masters and Don Bolduc win without much establishment help, they'll likely be thorns in McConnell's side if he becomes majority leader.

7. Biggest demographic shift: Working-class Hispanic voters.

  • Republicans are growing bullish that they'll make significant inroads in Hispanic-heavy parts of the country, where concerns about crime and the economy are creating a wedge against their traditional Democratic affiliation.
  • "Everyone is seeing that the Hispanic districts have been two, three, four clicks to the right compared to their historical performance," said one GOP official tracking House races. "They're coming in red hot Republican."
  • The American Enterprise Institute demographics tracker finds the Democratic congressional margin among Hispanic voters 7-9 points below its 2020 level and 17-19 points below its 2018 level.
  • Key areas to watch for as a sign of the Hispanic shift right: Nevada, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas (where Republicans are hoping to sweep three majority-Hispanic districts), and Colorado's 8th district, a newly created seat outside Denver.
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