Biden touts midterm results as Democrats defy expectations, avoid GOP blowout

The battle for control of the House and Senate is still up in the air.

November 9, 2022, 4:51 PM

President Joe Biden addressed election results for the first time Wednesday, saying it was a "strong night" for Democrats as the party defied expectations and avoided a Republican blowout.

"It was a good day, I think, for democracy. And I think it was a good day for America," Biden said as he delivered remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House. He added, "Our democracy has been tested in recent years but with their votes the American people have spoken and proven once again that democracy is who we are."

"While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, it didn't happen," Biden said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the battle for control of the House and Senate was still up in the air as several key races remained too close to call.

But as the dust begins to settle from Tuesday's races, one apparent takeaway is that the expected Republican blowout didn't quite materialize despite concerns about Biden's low approval rating and high inflation.

Biden spoke about inflation, crime and other issues that were top of mind for voters in Tuesday's contests. "There's still a lot of people hurting, they're very concerned," he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 15 flips overall in the House, 11 for Republicans and four for Democrats, according to ABC News projections. The Senate was locked in a dead heat at 48 seats each.

While Republicans could still win both chambers, Democratic strategists told ABC News the lack of a GOP wipeout is a victory in itself and a buck to historical trends.

"The party in the White House has gained seats in a midterm only three of 40 times since the Civil War," Jim Kessler, the executive director at the center-left think tank Third Way, told ABC News. "Since the direct election of senators in 1914, it's happened in seven of 27 midterms. Gaining seats in the House is not going to happen, but losses will be small. A draw or one seat pickup in the Senate is within grasp."

For comparison, in Barack Obama's first term, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House during the midterms. Republicans lost 40 seats in the House during the 2018 cycle when Donald Trump was president. Former President Bill Clinton lost 53 seats in the House in his first midterm elections.

"While any seat lost is painful -- some good Democrats didn't win last night -- Democrats had a strong night. We lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president's first midterm elections in the last 40 years," the president said.

Biden said Wednesday he's prepared to work with Republicans, and that the American people want bipartisanship regardless of which party is in the majority.

"This election season, the American people made it clear: they want every day going forward not to be a constant political battle. There's too much of that going on," Biden said.

Did Biden's message resonate?

Biden in the final campaign stretch cast the elections not as a referendum on his party, as has long been the historical trend, but a choice between the Democratic Party's agenda and that of "extreme MAGA Republicans."

Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist, said Tuesday's elections indicate the message stuck.

"This election, in so many ways, was a choice between the future and the past," she told ABC News, "between moving America forward and putting us backward."

US President Joe Biden speaks during a post-election press conference in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Nov. 9, 2022.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Others were more cautious, saying Democrats still have more work to do before the next cycle.

"I think it resonated with enough swing voters to avoid a complete disaster," Craig Varoga, a Democratic strategist working on races around the country, told ABC News of Biden's message. "And I think that in this environment that should be seen as a significant accomplishment but it's probably not going to be an outright victory.

"We had a near death experience and we should look at a near death experience and say, 'What are we going to do to avoid that in the future and what are we going to do to unify our message in order to save America?'" Varoga added.

What the midterms mean for 2024

Several Democratic candidates, especially those in tough races, distanced themselves from Biden and the administration in the general election. Some, such as Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, went so far as to say Biden shouldn't run again in 2024.

Biden has said he intends to run for reelection but made it clear he wouldn't make a formal decision until after the midterms.

Pressed on the timing of any announcement and what the election results would have on his decision, Biden told reporters Wednesday he and his family are going to have "discussions" about it over the next few weeks.

"I don't feel any hurry one way or the other to make that judgment," Biden said. "Today, tomorrow or whenever. No matter what my predecessor does," referring to Donald Trump, but not by name.

Some polling before the midterms showed Democrats were looking elsewhere for a 2024 nominee, but will the midterms boost Biden's chances?

"Look at the record of accomplishments, look at the fact that his administration broke historical trends," Finney said. "He has earned the right to take his time."

Trump's been teasing another presidential run for months. At a rally in Ohio this week, Trump said he's going to make "very big" announcement on Nov. 15 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

But the former president was left fuming by Tuesday's results, and political strategists agreed it was a bad night for him and his brand. Trump's hand-picked candidates, many election deniers, lost their races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and other states.

"I also expect there will be a dash of reckoning within the Republican Party," Kessler said. "Never have I seen such a huge gap in candidate quality between the two parties as this midterm. The gap is because Trump extremists won competitive primaries and then failed to close the deal in the general election in swing states and districts."