Democrats are expected to retain control of the House of Representatives, while the Senate is still up for grabs, as of early Wednesday morning.
In the House, Democrats won 189 seats against Republicans’ 181 as of early Wednesday — a Democratic slip, with Republicans gaining back some of the seats they lost in the 2018 midterm elections.
The Senate remains a toss-up, with Republicans losing ground despite having previously held the Senate, 53 to 47. As of Tuesday night, only 94 of the 100 Senate seats are confirmed, with both Republicans and Democrats holding 47 seats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats).
Behind these results are what many call once-in-a-lifetime conditions. Political analysts point to the COVID-19 pandemic — which at its peak cost an estimated 20 million jobs — as the basis for this year’s political headwinds. The changing demographics of the United States, which is poised to be minority-majority by 2045, are also cited as driving voting patterns.
Citing these factors, former Stanford Democrats co-president David Jaffe ’21 confidently expressed at 2 p.m. on Tuesday that “2020 would be a huge year for Democrats.”
In addition to changing voting patterns, the pandemic impacted election-day mechanics. In an effort to avoid COVID-19 transmission, a record number of Americans turned to mail-in ballots rather than in-person voting. President Trump has criticized mail-in voting for enabling what he calls “massive voter fraud” — a claim experts at the Associated Press say is baseless.
“It’s been interesting how big the partisan split on that” is, said Stanford Law professor and Hoover Institution fellow Michael McConnell about concerns and debates on mail-in voting. “Historically, Republicans have been just as likely to vote absentee or by mail as Democrats.”
A combination of changing demographics and pandemic-related fervor appeared to play out in a number of House races. Self-described democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) carried her race in a diverse New York district by double digits, despite her opponent drawing from a $10 million war chest.
Further south, Democrats flipped two House seats, with Deborah Ross winning North Carolina’s 2nd district and Kathy Manning carrying North Carolina’s 6th district. However, Republican candidates exceeded that figure, overturning six seats, including two in perennial swing-state Florida.
Despite challenging races, Senate Republicans held onto a number of seats, with Joni Ernst triumphing over Democrat challenger and businesswoman Theresa Greenfield in Iowa. The contest was the costliest race in the history of Iowa, a key state in the battle over Senate control.
In a highly tracked race, incumbent Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) won over Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison by a 13-point margin, even after Harrison raised $57 million in the campaign’s closing months — the largest amount raised in a single quarter in Senate history. Had Harrison been elected, he would have been the second Black senator from the South since Reconstruction.
“Across the country, congressional races have been how I’ve expected,” Kendall Zylstra ’24 said. “I did not expect Mitch McConnell or Lindsay Graham to lose.”
Despite many incumbents holding on to their seats, there were a number of upsets in the Senate. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper (D) beat out incumbent Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) by a 10-point margin. As governor, Hickenlooper held high approval ratings following his management of wildfires in the state. Experts also credit his victory to a growing Latino population in Colorado.
In Arizona, Democrat challenger and former astronaut Mark Kelly unseated Sen. Martha McSally (R) by a 7% margin. The race exemplifies the changing demographics of Arizona, home to a rapidly growing Latino population.
Jaffe, who is also involved with Jevin D. Hodge’s District 1 board of supervisors campaign in Arizona, wasn’t surprised at Kelly’s showing: “I was very confident that Mark Kelly would win.”
Democrats had lost a single Senate seat by early Wednesday morning. In Alabama, Republican challenger and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville beat out Sen. Doug Jones (D) — a widely expected result after Jones won by a slim margin in the 2017 special election against Republican Roy Moore. Moore faces numerous sexual allegations and has reported ties with white nationalist groups. Jones was the first Democratic senator in Alabama in two decades.
Several swing-state senatorial races have yet to be decided. Margins are slim in North Carolina’s election between Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and Cal Cunningham (D), with campaigns spending over $260 million on advertising. In Georgia, Sen. David Perdue (R) leads Jon Ossoff (D) by a margin of 4 points with 90% reporting.
For the junior senatorial seat in Georgia, the results will be decided in January after a special runoff election between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Kelly Loeffner (R).