We are now entering the unofficial second week of the election, as there are still a number of uncalled races. As of the recording of this podcast, the battle for the House had not been settled—and it looked all but certain at this point that Republicans are going to win a very narrow majority, but there are still a few races, especially out in California, that are up for grabs.
The two races I want to highlight are still toss-ups—we really are not sure at this point who is going to win. The first is California 13, between Democrat Adam Gray and Republican John Duarte, and the second is California 22, between Democrat Rudy Salas and incumbent representative David Valadao, the Republican.
In CA-13, the margins are narrow and have flipped back and forth—usually under a thousand votes for each side. “Gray is currently ahead as of this recording, but that could change tomorrow. That race is super narrow, and if the last ballots are slightly Democratic-leaning and you think that Gray might be probably a slight favorite, but the margin is just so close, there’s very little confidence that you could say right now about who’s going to win,” Beard noted.
The other race in California 22, he said, remained a question of how many ballots are outstanding in the more Democratic county of Kern County, and if the Democrat Salas is going to make up enough votes. “Right now, he’s down four percentage points, 52 to 48, so he’s got thousands of votes that he needs to make up in Kern County with the remaining vote. So that’s an outstanding question. If I had to pick one of the two people to be, I would probably say Valadao, but it’s definitely way too close to know for sure,” Beard added.
Nir also highlighted several state legislative chambers where things are up in the air. The first one is the Pennsylvania State House, where Democrats went into the election needing to flip 12 seats from Republicans. Many operatives and observers thought that maybe they could do that over two election cycles. “Very few people, at least outside the state, were thinking that Democrats could pull it off in one cycle, but it looks like they have. The state finally has un-gerrymandered maps for the first time in a very long time,” Nir said. What’s more, on Wednesday, Democrats declared victory in a seat in the Philadelphia suburbs: in the 151st District, Democrat Missy Cerrato was down by 12 votes, but additional votes were counted on Wednesday, and she now has a lead that is over 30 votes.
If that holds up, there could still be challenges recounts, but if her victory stands up, it would give Democrats 102 seats in the 203-member Pennsylvania State House, the second-largest state legislative chamber in the country. And it would also mean that for the first time in state history, a black woman, Joanna McClinton, would become speaker of the State House. Nir emphasized:
It is a huge, huge development, not just for Pennsylvanians, but for all of us. Because Pennsylvania has emerged as the number one swing state in the country, and if there’s anywhere that Republicans were really eager to prepare the groundwork for stealing a state’s electoral votes in 2024 on behalf of Donald Trump or some other Republican, it was going to be Pennsylvania. And by winning the State House in such extraordinary fashion, Democrats have made sure there is almost no way Republicans can do that though. Of course, we always need to remain vigilant.
Moving on to the largest state legislative chamber in the country with 400 members, the New Hampshire State House also saw some interesting outcomes. Democrats made a whole bunch of gains on election night, but came just short of taking the majority from Republicans—or so it seemed. These races are in very small districts, often separated by just a tiny number of votes. In fact, in two races already, Democrats have flipped the outcome thanks to recounts.
Going into Wednesday, Republicans had 201 seats and 199 for Democrats with quite a few more recounts still to come. And in one of those recounts on Wednesday, it ended in a tie. So Republicans now have 200 seats to 199 for Democrats and get this, past practice in the New Hampshire legislature when races have ended in ties, is to hold a special election for that seat. According to Nir, we could wind up in a situation where the entire country is focused on a special election in a tiny New Hampshire State House district that could affect control of the entire State House,
Over in Alaska, both chambers of the Alaska legislature are also up in the air, and \we don’t know the outcome. In both the State Senate and the State House, Nir noted, we could be looking at bipartisan coalitions with Democrats sharing power with Republicans and Independents to form majority coalitions. “Right now, it’s currently the case in the House that we have one of these cross-partisan coalitions. The Senate has had them in the past. It would be another really amazing set of outcomes, but we won’t really know the final answer until at least November 23rd,” he added. Alaska now uses instant runoff voting for any races where no candidate wins a majority of the vote, so many races have to go to runoffs—and then once that happens, there will likely be more wrangling about whether a coalition can be formed, who’s in it, who’s out.
One other race that has not yet been called is the Arizona Attorney General’s race. As of this recording, Democrat Chris Mays was leading by less than 1,000 votes out of more than two million cast. It is an extremely small margin, with about 10 to 20,000 votes left to count. Beard offered his analysis of the situation:
It’s hard to tell exactly because a lot of them are provisionals. So we don’t know exactly how many of them will end up being counted as the county elections boards go through this process of either verifying them or deciding that they don’t count. A chunk of them are from Pima County, which is a blue leaning county where Tucson is. So that will probably be good for Mays. But of course the majority of what’s remaining is in Maricopa, the county that dominates Arizona. And the percentages that come out of that county will probably end up deciding. If Mays stays ahead, there will probably be a recount unless one candidate takes a little bit more of a healthy lead. So this is something that we may not know the answer to for weeks.
However, not every state held good news for Democrats, and the hosts acknowledged the need to be clear-eyed as election analysts. One of the darkest spots of last week came in congressional races in New York, where redrawn maps played a significant role in shifting election outcomes. Beard broke it down:
A huge factor in Republicans ending up taking the majority, however narrowly, was the New York Congressional map. And the fact that the map that was passed by the Democratic legislature, which was a Democratic gerrymander, was struck down by the courts of New York and replaced by a special master’s map that was more neutral. And one of the things that has now come out in the wake of election day and the fact that Democrats overall did pretty poorly in New York is this idea that oh, these maps didn’t really matter. Democrats in New York had a terrible election day and so they were going to lose these seats anyway. And the fact that the map was struck down and replaced by a special master’s map didn’t really matter. And that is just not true. I think there’s a desire among people to attribute results to candidates or to voters when sometimes results are attributed to maps.
That is just the reality. People don’t like it, but it’s the truth. And we can see that because we know what the partisan lean of these two different maps were. And you can get a pretty good estimate of how the results would’ve changed if the old map had been in place instead of the new map. So for example, in New York’s 22nd District, which covers the Syracuse area, the legislative map had a district that Biden would’ve won by 18 percentage points, 58 to 40, while the special master’s map had a district that Biden only would’ve won by eight percentage points, 53 to 45. Now, that is obviously a massive shift. So we can see that if this was the district that was used this year, almost certainly the Democrat Francis Conole would’ve won over Williams in a D+18 district versus a D+8 district. So there’s no way to think that the map didn’t have a massive difference in this race.
Overall, the hosts agreed, maps matter—and this is shown more clearly in other states like Florida, which used gerrymandered maps that were probably unconstitutional, both in terms of Florida’s constitution and in terms of the Voting Rights Act. “They just went ahead and used them anyway and were able to take advantage of that. That happened in other states like Ohio. And the fact that New York had their map struck down, had the special master’s map and likely cost Democrats two to three seats, makes a massive difference in the outcome of this election,” Beard surmised.
Nir, a New Yorker, indicated his displeasure at the outcome of these redrawn maps, though he does not see a pathway for that ruling striking down the map to be overturned:
I really hope that we have some creative lawyers thinking about a way to get a redo so that New Yorkers can get a more reasonable map, because I can guarantee you this, the majority of New York voters are obviously Democrats and I am sure do not believe in unilateral disarmament and letting Texas and Ohio and Florida completely screw us over and deprive us of the house. So hopefully there is some clever way to find a way to change all this.
“Just to reiterate, our position and almost universally Democrat’s position is that we would love a national ban on gerrymandering and fair maps across the country,” said Beard. But they believe that unless and until Republicans are willing to do that, blue states like New York cannot afford to just give up and draw fair maps while Republican red states draw gerrymandered maps. “You cannot allow that to happen. You have to fight back with what you have. And as long as this is the case, we’re going to keep pushing that,” Beard said.
The duo also went on to celebrate the outcome in Michigan, which saw Democrats recapture the trifecta of the governorship, the state Senate, and the state House. As Nir explained,
Republicans had managed to rig the maps for decades in Michigan, and Democrats flipped both the state House and the state Senate. Of course, you know that Gretchen Whitmer won reelection for a second term as governor. That means that Democrats will hold the trifecta, the state House, the state Senate, and the governorship in Michigan for the first time since 1983. And there’s a big asterisk there, because in 1983, Democrats only held a trifecta for less than a year. It ended when Republicans engineered the recall of a couple of Democratic senators and they wound up taking back the Senate. The last time prior to 1983, Franklin Roosevelt was president. It was the New Deal era. And this really is a new era for Michigan, and there are so many exciting possibilities that this legislature can now tackle.
Nir and Beard also celebrated what they’ve heard about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wanting to repeal right-to-work laws in the state. Beard gave this primer on right to work and why it is detrimental to labor rights and union organizing:
But everyone in a state that’s not right-to-work, everyone pays in for the representational work that the union does. So negotiating your contract, representing workers in grievances, legal advice, things like that in a non-right-to-work state everybody pays into because everybody gets the benefits from. But in right-to-work … And this is built up on the idea that somebody should have the right not to join the union. But of course, in right-to-work states where people decide not to pay for these benefits, they still have to get the benefits because the union represents everybody. So what it essentially allows is free-riders to get the benefits of the bargaining, get the benefits of grievance representation, legal advice, all that. They get all those benefits for free.
And while I’m sure there’s somebody out there who’s thinking like, “Well, that’s a good deal for me,” it’s bad for the union in the long term. It hurts solidarity, it makes the unions weaker, and it leads to lower wages, greater workplace risk. The studies have been done that right-to-work is bad for workplaces and for workers. And so the fact that Michigan isn’t going to have the opportunity to repeal right-to-work and return to fair-share fees, as they’re called, so that everybody who gets the benefit from a union is paying into to get those benefits is a great, great first step. And there’s also so much more that Democrats will be able to do with decades and decades of built-up desires to make the state better and not being able to do that. There’s, I’m sure, a long list that this Democratic legislature is eager to get started on.
Citing Daily Kos Elections Writer Steven Wolf’s observations, Nir said that three things that Republicans do every single time they take complete control of state government are: They restrict, or nowadays, ban abortion rights. They suppress the right to vote. And they implement right-to-work. But now, in Michigan, they just passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion, and they just passed yet another measure protecting the right to vote. Now they can undo right-to-work. It’s unbelievable. With the trifecta, Nir said, “[it] feels like we’re really turning back the clock in the best possible way here.”
Beard and Nir also covered a plethora of ballot measures that were passed last Tuesday, including Initiative 82 in Washington, D.C.—which passed and will bring an end to the tipped minimum wage, raising the minimum wage for everyone to the same level. Take a listen to the podcast to hear more about those!
The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts! As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at [email protected] Please send in any questions you may have for next week’s mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter at @DKElections.