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Congressional balance of power still in question the morning after election day

A photo of the U.S. Capitol building during a summer day.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The congressional balance of power was still in question the day after the Nov. 8 election, with Republicans on track to potentially win control of the U.S. House, while Democrats may still end up with control of the U.S. Senate. That outcome, should it come to pass, would leave President Joe Biden with a divided Congress for the remainder of his current term. 

A president’s party historically loses congressional seats in a midterm election cycle, and Republicans had hoped to continue that trend by hitting Biden on issues like inflation, crime and immigration. Biden — the nation’s second Catholic president — and fellow Democrats ran on his record on job creation, while criticizing Republicans on abortion access as well as those who denied the outcome of the 2020 elections. 

However, the so-called “red wave” predicted by many Republicans did not materialize. Associated Press exit polling showed inflation edged out abortion access as voter’s top concern, with abortion ranking ahead of crime. Polls also showed former Republican president Donald Trump was motivating voters to cast votes against Republicans nearly as much as Biden, the sitting president, caused voters to cast votes against Democrats. 

Republican strategist Jason Roe told OSV News that Republicans “misread the room” with independent voters, assuming their concerns about inflation would outweigh other concerns. Roe said the party did not account for frustrations about Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud in 2020 and its consequences, like decreased voter confidence and the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

The results, Roe said, offer “no silver lining” for Trump, or Republicans who thought that outspending Democrats would get their candidates who embraced erroneous fraud claims over the finish line. 

At present, the Republican party may win just a slim House majority and potentially fail to win control of the Senate. 

The outcome of divided control of Congress may stop Biden’s pledge to expand abortion access in federal law following U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. However, it may also lead to gridlock on other Catholic-backed priorities, such as immigration reform, death penalty abolition and action on climate change.

A number of House races had yet to be officially called the morning of Nov. 9, but at present projections on the outstanding races show Republicans will control the chamber with a slim majority.

The balance of power in the Senate was also still in question, but appeared likely to be held by Democrats who need to win two out of three remaining contests to keep control of the chamber: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.

A close race between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican rival Herschel Walker will now head to a Dec. 6 runoff after neither candidate appeared on track to exceed the 50% threshold required by state law. 

The Senate balance of power in 2020 was also determined by a runoff election in Georgia, in which the Peach State chose two Democrats amid then-President Trump’s unfounded claims of systemic election fraud. 

Republican “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance won his Senate race in Ohio against fellow Catholic, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), maintaining a seat currently held by the retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

But Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz lost his race against Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, giving Democrats control of a seat currently held by the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

The political impact of abortion access on Congressional elections was seen – but it did not appear to affect ballot questions and candidates equally across the board. 

In the first post-Dobbs test at the ballot box, other than in Kansas earlier this year, voters defeated efforts to protect the right to life of the unborn backed by the U.S. bishops in five states. California, Michigan and Vermont moved to codify abortion access, while voters in Kentucky and Montana rejected efforts to restrict abortion.

However, abortion did not bail out congressional Democrats from tough election races. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, conceded defeat Nov. 9 to GOP state lawmaker Mike Lawler, a notable loss for the chair of the party’s campaign arm after exceeding other expectations in House races. 

Republicans were plagued by what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) characterized as candidate quality issues. Trump’s looming presence on the campaign trail also made the midterms a referendum not just on Biden, but on his predecessor and election fraud claims.

In New Hampshire’s toss-up Senate race, incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) defeated Republican Don Boldouc, who won the Republican primary in the Granite State after claiming the 2020 election was not legitimate. Boldouc later reversed his stance once he reached the general election. 

Republican underperformance will likely set the stage for a more competitive 2024 Republican primary as Republicans look more closely at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as their standard bearer.  

Trump is widely expected to launch a third bid for the White House in the coming days, but his influence may be waning, as several of his selected Senate candidates failed to win their swing state races, while Republican Trump critics such as Gov. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) won reelection. 

Jason Roe said Trump’s performance starkly contrasts with DeSantis, who is Catholic, and who won a “dominating” victory over a Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, who was previously governor of Florida. 

If DeSantis did seek and win the Republican nomination, and if Biden does seek a second term, as he has indicated he will, the 2024 contest could be a historic race between two Catholics for the U.S. presidency.

Kate Scanlon is National Reporter for OSV News covering Washington.

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