If Democrats suffer major losses as expected Tuesday night, they will still try to put a brave face on the results.
One thing Democrats have going for them is that in the days leading up to the election, expectations for Republicans were very high. That means Republicans can do well in the midterm elections and still fall short of the loftier projections.
Any silver lining for Democrats could have major implications for President Joe Biden’s decision to seek reelection or make a national hero, and potential dark horse 2024 contender, out of any Democrat who survives a close race.
Here are three scenarios that could have the Democrats declaring victory even in defeat.
Democrats hold the Senate, even if it remains a 50-50 split
Just a few weeks ago, Democrats were favored to retain control of the Senate. Biden and others had even hoped to expand their majority past Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote in order to get past the filibuster and codify federal abortion rights following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. White House chief of staff Ron Klain was saying this would be the first time this had happened under a Democratic president since JFK.
Now, it would be a major disappointment for Republicans to fall short in the Senate, even if Democrats end up with only 50 senators plus Harris. This wouldn’t massively change Biden’s ability to legislate compared to the last two years. The filibuster would remain an obstacle to the farthest-reaching liberal policy goals and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would remain someone to watch or even flip to the GOP.
But after projections that Republicans might be able to hold 54 to 55 seats in the Senate, Democratic retention of the chamber would undoubtedly feature prominently in their post-election commentary.
With at least a half dozen near or within the margin of error, there is also a real possibility that Senate control will remain uncertain for days or weeks afterward. Automatic recounts could be a factor, and there’s always the chance of another runoff in Georgia.
If Democrats lead in these races, Republican refusal to concede could be met with charges of election denialism. Biden said last week that there are 350 election deniers running on this year’s GOP ticket nationally and warned some candidates would not accept the results. Democrats may trail and refuse to concede, as was the case for Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in 2018. Abrams is running again this year.
Democrats keep losses in the House to below 40 seats
The White House is prepared to spin anything less than the losses suffered by recent presidents in their first midterm elections — 54 seats for Bill Clinton, 63 seats for Barack Obama, and 40 seats for Donald Trump — as a history-defying win.
Because of these earlier elections, however, the universe of easily winnable seats is smaller than in any of those races. Democrats especially held more conservative-leaning districts under Clinton and Obama that were ripe for Republican pickups. Downplaying a Republican gain of 25 to 35 seats probably won’t markedly improve Biden’s fortunes.
If Republicans gain fewer than 25 seats, it will be easier to say Democrats dodged the red wave, particularly if that is accompanied by a Democratic hold of the Senate.
Blue state blues for the GOP
In recent days, Republicans have been on the defensive in New York, Oregon, Washington state, and New Mexico. Biden has appeared in many of these states, finishing off his campaign tour in Maryland.
This led many to expect Democratic vulnerabilities in areas once thought to be safe. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) has closed the gap with Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) with a single-minded focus on crime. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who chairs the House Republican Conference, told the Washington Examiner that she believes her party can take back the House through New York congressional districts alone.
If Republicans fall short in many or most of these races, Democrats will breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, they will still have ended up spending considerable time and resources shoring up those areas that might have been better committed to other competitive races.
Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win the Senate and five to take the House.
If Democrats manage to maintain control of both houses of Congress, as Biden predicted last week, no spin will be necessary. The forecasters at FiveThirtyEight give Democrats just a 16 in 100 chance of holding the House.
Reporting from The Washington Examiner.