Democrats beat Trump-backed GOP candidates in liberal states like Illinois, but tougher contests remain

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker shake hands on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

Brian Rich

Top-ticket Democrats in Illinois and other blue states repelled Republicans early Tuesday who were backed by former President Donald Trump, but control of Congress and the future of Joe Biden’s presidency rested in tougher contests.

And those have yet to be decided.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared victory over Republican Darren Bailey, a downstate farmer who secured Trump’s endorsement during the primary campaign.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also soared to a second term, prevailing over Republican challenger Kathy Salvi, who insisted Illinois is “crippled by one-party rule” in Springfield and Washington, D.C.

Still, the victories by Pritzker and Duckworth were so expected that the Associated Press called their races the moment the polls closed Tuesday. Their party won similar victories in Massachusetts and Maryland.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Bill Foster were leading in other key Illinois congressional races Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten found himself in a closer contest.

The outcome of races for House and Senate will determine the future of Biden’s agenda and serve as a referendum on his administration as the nation reels from record-high inflation and concerns over the direction of the country. Republican control of the House would likely trigger a round of investigations into Biden and his family, while a GOP Senate takeover would hobble Biden’s ability to make judicial appointments.

Democrats face historic headwinds. The party in power almost always suffers losses in the president’s first midterm elections, but Democrats had been hoping that anger from the Supreme Court’s decision to gut abortion rights might energize their voters to buck historical trends.

Even Biden, who planned to watch the evening’s election returns at the White House, said late Monday night that he thought his party would keep the Senate but “the House is tougher.” Asked how that would make governing, his assessment was stark: “More difficult.”

In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker were vying for a seat that could determine control of the Senate. In Virginia, Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria were fending off spirited Republican opponents in what could serve as early signals of where the House majority is heading as Republicans hope to reclaim suburban districts that shifted to Democrats during Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency.

Republicans are betting that messaging focused on the economy, gas prices and crime will resonate with voters at a time of soaring inflation and rising violence.

AP VoteCast, a broad survey of the national electorate, showed that high inflation and concerns about the fragility of democracy were heavily influencing voters.

Half of voters said inflation factored significantly, with groceries, gasoline, housing, food and other costs that have shot up in the past year. Slightly fewer — 44% — said the future of democracy was their primary consideration.

Few major voting problems were reported around the country, though there were hiccups typical of most Election Days. Some tabulators were not working in a New Jersey county. In Philadelphia, where Democrats are counting on strong turnout, people complained about being turned away as they showed up in person to try to fix problems with their previously cast mail-in ballots.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, which encompasses Phoenix and is the state’s largest county, officials reported problems with vote-tabulation machines in about 20% of voting places. That fueled anger and skepticism about voting that has been growing among some Republicans since the state went narrowly for Biden in 2020.

In the first national election since the Jan. 6 insurrection, the country’s democratic future is in question. Some who participated in or were in the vicinity of the attack are poised to win elected office Tuesday, including several running for House seats. Concerns about political violence are also on the rise less than two weeks after a suspect under the spell of conspiracy theories targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home and brutally beat her 82-year-old husband.

The 2022 elections are on track to cost a projected $16.7 billion at the state and federal level, making them the most expensive midterms ever, according to the nonpartisan campaign finance tracking organization OpenSecrets.

Republicans entered the final stretch of the campaign in a strong position to retake control of at least one chamber of Congress, giving them power to thwart Biden’s agenda for the remaining two years of his term. The GOP needed a net gain of just one seat to win the U.S. Senate and five to regain the U.S. House.

All House seats were up for grabs, as were 34 Senate seats — with cliffhangers especially likely in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. Thirty-six states are electing governors, with many of those races also poised to come down to the slimmest of margins.

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November 8, 2022 at 10:17PM

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