The battle for control of Congress is beginning to take shape as votes are counted in competitive races across the nation.
Republicans flipped Democratic-held House seats in Florida, Georgia and Virginia. But several Democratic incumbents, including two House members in Virginia, have won competitive races, and others were leading – a sign that Republicans have an edge but not the wave they hoped for nationwide.
The battle for control of the Senate remains tight, with both parties holding onto competitive seats: Democrats in New Hampshire and Colorado; Republicans in North Carolina and Ohio.
In Florida, though, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis romped – flipping heavily Latino counties that had historically been Democratic strongholds on the way to a reelection victory that could serve as a launching pad for a 2024 presidential bid.
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Here are six early takeaways as votes are being counted in key races:
Democrats and Republicans both successfully defended key Senate seats, as both parties’ paths to a majority in the evenly divided chamber narrowed.
Allowing Democrats to breathe sighs of relief, New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet won reelection, CNN projected.
For Republicans, meanwhile, Rep. Ted Budd won the North Carolina Senate seat of his party’s retiring Richard Burr, while author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance overcame a feisty opponent in Rep. Tim Ryan in the contest for the Ohio Senate seat of retiring Republican Rob Portman.
Losses in any of those races would have all but ended the losing party’s hopes of winning the Senate.
Now, a handful of key races are poised to decide Senate control. Democrats are defending seats in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, while Republicans defend seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
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Three Democratic-controlled House races in Virginia were widely viewed as an early warning signal of the night’s results. With all House districts in the commonwealth projected by CNN, the results hint at a night where Democrats could lose the House – but would not face a 2014-style wave.
Democrats held seats in two Virginia districts Biden won in 2020.
CNN projected that Democratic Jennifer Wexton won her reelection bid in Virginia’s 10th District. Republicans were hoping Wexton could fall on Tuesday if the night was particularly bad for Democrats.
In an even more competitive race, CNN projected Rep. Abigail Spanberger also won reelection in Virginia’s 7th District. Spanberger was widely seen as a vulnerable incumbent, especially after Republican Glenn Youngkin carried the district in his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2021.
But Democrats lost in southeastern Virginia, with CNN projecting that Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans defeated Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria.
“I was in the White House in 2010 when the big wave rolled in. I know what it feels like. It doesn’t feel like this,” said David Axelrod, the top political adviser to former President Barack Obama.
Scott Jennings, a Republican operative and CNN contributor, said whether the results are a wave or just a slight shift in the House, the impact will be the same on President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Whether it is a wave, a ripple, or whatever you want to call it, the oversight is going to feel all the same,” Jennings said.
Luria, a member of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, lost her Virginia Beach-based House seat, CNN projected.
Luria’s loss to Kiggans, Republican Navy veteran, was the latest demonstration that the lasting focus on the insurrection – even as it sheds light on a dark chapter in the nation’s capitol – is a political anchor for those involved.
Luria had defeated former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor in 2018 and 2020. But the district had become slightly more favorable ground for Republicans in redistricting: Biden carried the previous version by 5 points, and would have lost the new district by 2 points.
And Luria provided the latest evidence that voters are not rewarding those involved in the committee probing the insurrection. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was routed in a primary by Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman, while Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, both retired rather than seeking reelection.
Gov. Ron DeSantis led a dominant Republican ticket in Florida – delivering historic margins in Democratic territory in his victory over Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist on a night that provides him a powerful argument if he seeks the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The easy wins by DeSantis, who led by nearly 20 percentage points with 92% of the estimated vote counted, and Sen. Marco Rubio, who was 17 points up, were enough to cast doubt on Florida’s status as a national bellwether.
The most eye-popping outcome – and one that demonstrates the breadth of DeSantis’ appeal in the eyes of Sunshine State voters – came in Miami-Dade County, which is heavily Hispanic and historically a huge source of Democratic votes.
Republicans had made gains there in recent years: Hillary Clinton defeated former President Trump there by 29 percentage points in 2016. DeSantis did slightly better in the 2018 governor’s race, losing the county by 21 points. Trump made inroads there in 2020, losing by just 8 points. But a GOP candidate for governor hadn’t actually won Miami-Dade County since Jeb Bush in 2002.
The political reality is straightforward: Democrats have no realistic path to victory in statewide races in Florida without big wins in Miami-Dade County. That reality makes county’s outcome into an exclamation point on a dominant GOP performance.
DeSantis’ win comes as a battle over the future of the Republican Party takes shape, with Trump signaling a potential 2024 announcement next week. Exit polls in Florida showed that 45% of the state’s voters would like to see DeSantis run for president, compared to 33% who want Trump to run in 2024.
In a victory speech Tuesday night, DeSantis offered a glimpse at how he might describe his governorship to a national audience. Touting his refusal to impose lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that Florida “was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad.” He also described the state as “where woke goes to die” and “a ray of hope that better days still lie ahead.”
Republicans hoped to build on Trump’s inroads among Latino voters in 2020, a trend that could reshape the political landscapes in several swing states if it continues.
The strongest early signal that the GOP had continued to make gains came in Miami-Dade County, home to a large Cuban population.
But Latinos are not a monolith, and there were more important signs in Florida, too: Another traditional Democratic stronghold won by DeSantis was Osceola County, a majority Latino county south of Orlando with a heavily Puerto Rican population.
However, it’ll take a while to fully gauge whether those GOP gains take place outside of Florida.
One key gauge will be three competitive House races in Texas, where the GOP hopes culturally conservative voters in the Rio Grande Valley will swing their way.
Arizona and Nevada, both competitive states with significant Latino populations, are also important to watch. So are a spate of House races in California, where it could take days or weeks for winners to become clear.
Up and down the ballot, in red states and blue, candidates from both parties are celebrating pathbreaking victories.
In Massachusetts, Democratic state Attorney General Maura Healey is poised to become the state’s first elected female governor and the nation’s first out lesbian state executive. Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump White House press secretary, has been elected the first female governor of Arkansas. And Maryland Democrat Wes Moore will be the state’s first Black governor.
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Alabama’s Katie Britt, a Republican former aide to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, will replace him next year, winning election on Tuesday to become the state’s first female US Senator.
Down the ballot, Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.
Florida has also elected the youngest-ever House member, 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, now on track to become the first Gen Z candidate to hold federal office.
This story has been updated with additional developments.