Nov 9, 2022 - Podcasts

The red wave that wasn't

We're still waiting to see where things stand in the Senate and the House, but already we’re getting a good idea of what didn't happen in these elections: An overwhelming victory by Republicans that many expected.

  • Plus, the night's historic firsts.

Guests: Axios' Mike Allen, Margaret Talev, and Shawna Chen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Robin Linn, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, November 9th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

JOHN FETTERMAN: I never expected we were gonna turn those red counties blue. But we did what we needed to do.

John Fetterman wins the Senate contest in Pennsylvania – in a night that didn’t go the way many people had expected, across the U.S.

Plus: where candidates made history in the midterm elections. But first, The Red Wave - that wasn’t. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

The Red Wave - that wasn’t

NIALA: As expected we're still waiting to see where things stand in the Senate and the House this morning, but we're already getting a good idea of what didn't happen in these elections. Namely an overwhelming victory by Republicans. Axios’ Managing Editor for Politics Margaret Talev and Axios’ Co-founder and AM author Mike Allen are here with highlights of what we know right now. Good morning.

MIKE ALLEN: Good morning Niala.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning,

NIALA: Mike, your headline this morning.

MIKE: No Red wave. How's that for smart brevity? We were debating, is this gonna be a Red Ripple? A red wave, a red tsunami? Correct answer, none of the above.

NIALA: Margaret, is it too early to say that the political polling that led us to believe we'd see a red wave is wrong.

MARGARET: Well Niala, it certainly missed something. And whether that's something, is that it oversampled Republicans and under sample Democratic voters did it under sample first time voters or female voters, or abortion driven voters or abortion rights driven voters. It, the polling was off but it was consistently off across multiple polls.

MIKE: Early this morning, Kevin McCarthy came out to what was gonna be his victory party at a Washington hotel at 1:59 AM. He finally said it would be clear that there was gonna be a majority. It was nothing like he was expected and the Senate, no one knows. And it's very possible Democrats either keep their majority or even expand it.

NIALA: So let's talk about some of those races, especially those that were called overnight for people waking up this morning. How much is the Pennsylvania Senate race and John Fetterman's win a surprise?

MARGARET: It was much faster, a result than we expected. I had told you and listeners, last night, it's gonna, it could be days until we know the answer. It was not, it was hours until we knew the answer with John Fetterman having enough of a lead, to be declared the winner outright. A big deal because that is a gain for Democrats, that is a gain of a Senate seat. And that gives them a little bit of wiggle, it allows them to lose another Senate seat and still break even and maintain their razor thin majority.

MIKE: Look at NBC's exit polling from Pennsylvania. Most important issue, abortion 36% inflation 29%, crime down there at 11%, which had dominated so much of the campaign debate. And which was why Dr. Oz was thought to have much more of an edge than he actually did.

NIALA: And abortion was on the ballot in five states across the country as well. How much do we think abortion and the Supreme Court decision may have factored into what we're seeing so far from the results?

MARGARET: Look at two states in particular, Vermont and Michigan, where enshrining abortion rights in their constitution was not only on the ballot, but drove those measures to victory in both of those states.

NIALA: Mike, we talked about this overnight with Margaret and Hans in our pop-up pod, but Florida was this bright spot for Republicans. How much does DeSantis’ commanding victory, what's the significance of that for former President Trump?

MIKE: Well, Trump was a big loser last night. Look at candidates that he endorsed, Senate and House. And I can tell you that my conversations with Republicans last night and overnight, they're furious at Trump because look at his candidate, Dr. Oz lost in Pennsylvania. Republicans are convinced that if he had just been quiet or endorsed the other Republican, Dave McCormick, the Republicans would've won that seat. In Michigan, his candidate for governor Tudor Dixon lost by eight points. Look at all the candidates who are trailing, Herschel Walker in Georgia, state officials saying overnight that's gonna go to a runoff. Blake Masters in Arizona, Kari Lake running for governor in Arizona, all trailing.

And on top of that, at the last minute in the final hours of the midterms, what does Trump do? He creates another massive distraction, rolling out speculation about his own 2024 race. And by contrast, Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, who is Florida governor because of Trump's backing, but is now on a real collision course with him, had this incredible victory where he won Hispanic voters, 57%, 52% of women voters, 58% of suburban voters in exit polling. And most importantly, his strength in Miami-Dade County, the most, the strongest Republican there in two decades. All of it makes him look like he has what they used to call presidential timber.

MARGARET: I totally agree with Mike. This was very good night for Ron DeSantis and a very bad night for Donald Trump. It also was a bad night for Kevin McCarthy. He is on track to become most likely the house speaker, but in a much weaker fashion than he originally anticipated. And I think with Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, you can argue this both ways. On the one hand, he will not be weakened by a massive Trump MAGA wave in Congress. But on the other hand, he and Donald Trump and Rick Scott and Kevin McCarthy and leadership in both chambers are gonna get blamed for not having a wider majority. So it's kind of a mess. Who emerges stronger, ironically, Joe Biden to some extent, does emerge stronger, even though it's gonna be probably to be the president with control of zero or one chambers of Congress, but he totally overperformed expectations. And that gives him some mandate within his own party to steer the course he wants to heading into the next two years.

NIALA: Axios’ Margaret Talev and Mike Allen. Thank you both.

MIKE: Niala. Have the best election week.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: In a moment: the midterms result in candidate firsts across the country.


Where candidates made history in the midterm elections

NIALA: Welcome back Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

While all eyes have been on the balance of power in Congress, this election has also resulted in a number of historic firsts. Axios’ Reporter Shawn Chen has been watching these through the night and has a few to share. Hi, Shawna.


NIALA: We saw trail blazing last night on both sides of the aisle. Let's start with Asian American candidates, who made history there?

SHAWNA: Yeah, there were a couple across state and federal races. Shri Thaneda from Michigan will be the first Indian American to represent the state in the House. He won over a crowded Democratic primary.

NIALA: What about for other candidates of color? I think a lot of people have seen the headlines of Wes Moore in this part of the world, being the first black governor for Maryland.

SHAWNA: Yes, he will be the only the third elected, black governor ever in US history. So that's a pretty big deal. Also among candidates of color, California's house candidate Robert Garcia, who's a Democrat, is set to be the first out LGBTQ immigrant in Congress.

NIALA: We also saw, to that point of LGBTQ history, some other interesting races, particularly in Massachusetts.

SHAWNA: Yeah, Maura Healey, is the first woman actually elected, state governor in Massachusetts, and she's the first out lesbian to be elected governor in the United States.

NIALA: And we also saw some other historic firsts with women led governors?

SHAWNA: Yeah. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also the first woman governor in Arkansas. And actually her lieutenant governor is also going to be a woman. So having two women, leading Arkansas is also a first. Massachusetts also elected women for both governor and lieutenant governor posts, so Massachusetts and Arkansas together, historic firsts.

NIALA: So Shawna, what's the takeaway here, are lawmakers starting to reflect the demographics of the American population?

SHAWNA: I think the progress is slow, but it's definitely moving in that direction. And the GOP in particular, this cycle has really recognized that they will need to be able to support candidates with color if they want to continue reaching voters. So this midterm elections, we saw a lot of candidates of color, LGBTQ candidates, and a lot of candidates of color didn't end up getting elected, but I think for them to run in the first place, has been a huge reflection of the growing demand for political representation.

NIALA: We'll have links in our show notes to more of these historic first. Axios’ Shawna Chen. Thanks Shawna

SHAWNA: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: That’s it for us this morning – but remember we have another special election episode that will hit your feed this afternoon, so watch for that.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you later today.

For The Economist's analysis of the results of the midterms and where America is headed -- listen to the "Checks and Balance" podcast - where John Prideaux and his colleagues provide their perspectives on democracy in America. Join them today and start listening to "Checks and Balance" wherever you get your podcasts.

Go deeper