It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week since polls closed for the midterm elections. Some key races have yet to be called, but we can nonetheless see some broader patterns emerging that we’d like to highlight for you today.
First, the good news: Democrats have officially retained control of the Senate! After incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Adam Laxalt in Nevada’s hotly contested Senate race on Saturday, Democrats officially secured the 50 seats needed to keep the Senate (with Vice President Harris serving as a 51st tie-breaking vote). The fight isn’t entirely over – Georgia is headed to a runoff between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, which will determine whether Democrats have a true majority in the Senate – but Democrats still have a lot to celebrate.
Now, the bad news: as of this writing, Republicans are on course to gain control of the House. 13 House races are undeclared; Republicans need to win just one of these races to achieve a majority, while Democrats need to win all of them. It’s not official yet, but it’s more or less a done deal that we will have divided control of the Senate and House come January.
What happened with the House? Why were Democrats victorious in the Senate but (probably) not in the lower chamber? The answers to these questions are multifold, but one of the most important can be found a few hundred miles north of Capitol Hill in the state of New York.
Republicans did not experience the red wave they were expecting; it is typical for the party not occupying the White House to lose out in the midterms. But Republicans did experience a “mini wave,” if you will, in New York. Democrats held onto the governor’s office as incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul narrowly defeated Rep. Lee Zeldin. However, Republicans still managed to flip four House seats red – including, most notably, the seat of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Sean Patrick Maloney.
How were Republicans able to flip seats in such a liberal, deep-blue state? Part of the answer has to do with redistricting. In 2014, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo created a bipartisan, independent body – an Independent Redistricting Commission – to redraw NY’s Congressional and state legislative maps. In 2021, the Commission failed to reach a consensus on a new set of maps, which then gave the state legislature the opportunity to create its own. Democrats, who held supermajorities in both the NY Assembly and Senate, created maps that were highly gerrymandered, giving their party 22 safe seats out of 26.
Eventually, Democrats’ gerrymandered maps were rejected by a Republican acting Supreme Court judge in Steuben County. Justice McAllister gave the Democratic-led legislature the directive to develop “new bipartisanly supported maps,” or he would appoint a Special Master to redraw them. Ultimately, Democrats opted not to pursue drafting new bipartisan-supported maps, and instead, the Special Master was called in to draw them, which did not work in Democrats’ favor. The Congressional map gave them just 15 safe seats and pitted many Democratic representatives against each other. It also eliminated one Congressional district, the 27th district, entirely.
The NY fiasco is also the result of the actions of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the first DCCC Chair to lose reelection in 40 years. When the Congressional map was redrawn, Maloney decided to leave the 18th district and instead run for reelection in the new 17th district – a district encompassing less than 30% of his previous one. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), the 17th district happened to be a bigger Democratic stronghold than the 18th. As a result, Maloney effectively pushed out Rep. Mondaire Jones, a native of the 17th district who went on to run in the new NY 10th primary and lost. This selfish stunt, coupled with the fact that Maloney did little to connect with grassroots groups and organizers in the months and weeks before the election, led to his stunning defeat.
Unfortunately, Democrats’ failures in NY will probably cost the party the House. It’s a shame, but if there’s one silver lining, it’s this: Democrats need to earn voters’ votes, even in traditionally blue states like NY. Voters are paying attention. If Democrats are playing dirty with gerrymandering, acting selfishly by kicking out locals to run in “safer” districts, or generally failing to act on behalf of working people, they won’t hesitate to show their dissatisfaction on Election Day.