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News brief: parties jockey for control, Ga. midterms, voting was largely uneventful

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is the morning after the election, and as we're talking now - a little bit after 5 o'clock Eastern time - control of Congress is not decided. We're going to talk through some results, and let's begin with NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who's in our studios this morning. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, let's start with the United States Senate. I guess there was one big result on the Democrats' side last night.

DAVIS: Sure. I mean, one of the closely watched races of the cycle, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, won that race against celebrity doctor, Mehmet Oz. Significant victory for the Democratic Party, the only party flip so far in the '22 elections. It is obviously way too soon - we're awaiting outcomes in Nevada, in Georgia, in Arizona. But with this victory, Democrats are in a position - and probably in a good position - to hold their majority.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just do the math here. It's 50-50 Democrats control because they've got the vice presidency. They gained one seat, meaning they can afford to lose...

DAVIS: Somewhere else, yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Just one of those others. If they lose two, Republicans would take the majority.

DAVIS: And, Steve, this could take a while. It does look likely that the Georgia Senate race could go to a December runoff. So it could be weeks before we can definitively determine the Senate.

INSKEEP: Wow. That would be a big, big story. Now, what about the House of Representatives, where there was at least a possibility, it seemed, the Republicans would have a huge win?

DAVIS: Sure. I mean, President Biden and the Democratic majority were bracing for a Republican wave, and it really did not emerge. Republicans are still in a good position to take control of the House of Representatives, but they could be looking at a single-digit majority. They absolutely underperformed across the board. The Democratic Party showed surprising strength among independent voters in particular. I think fears of Latinos running away from the party did not necessarily happen in places like Nevada. But it's also going to call into question Kevin McCarthy. He is projected to be the next speaker. But I think there is going to be some recriminations within the Republican Party over why they didn't perform as well as they were expecting to as well.

INSKEEP: You alluded to strength among Democrats. Was there also some weakness among Republicans who attached themselves to Donald Trump?

DAVIS: Absolutely. I mean, Republican candidates - you look at a state like Georgia. Jack Kemp, the Republican governor there, won and won big. The Republican Senate candidate, Herschel Walker, backed by Trump - a bit of a controversial candidate - likely heading to a runoff. A big distinction between non-Trump candidates and Trump-endorsed candidates - Steve, again, look at a night like Florida. There was a big red wave in the state of Florida.

INSKEEP: OK.

DAVIS: Republican Governor Ron DeSantis won big there. I think that there's going to be a big conversation now about the future of the Republican Party and whether they really do need to move away from the mold of Donald Trump-like candidates.

INSKEEP: I want to be careful about judging what message voters were sending, particularly since the results are not even all in.

DAVIS: Sure.

INSKEEP: And it seems to have been a fairly close election, and yet there may be some signs. What issues did you sense a signal about here in these results?

DAVIS: Look; voters cared about the economy and abortion. They told us that all year long. But one thing that appears to be clear is that abortion was a bigger issue on voters' minds than even our own polling suggested. When put to voters in states like Vermont, Michigan and California, voters there all codified abortion into their state constitutions. You look at a state like Kentucky, not exactly a Democratic-friendly state, rejected an effort that would have prohibited an - the right to abortion in their state constitution. So abortion rights really was on the minds of voters in this country when they were casting their ballots.

INSKEEP: That is particularly interesting because it was a big conversation piece in the summer but seemed to have faded, but not in voters' minds...

DAVIS: And it didn't show up in the polls, and it was - last night was a great reminder that polls tell us a lot, but they do not tell us everything.

INSKEEP: OK. The election as it stands at 5:11 Eastern time. Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we just heard Sue and Steve talk about how critical the state of Georgia is in these midterms, and that's where we're going to turn our focus. Republican Governor Brian Kemp has won reelection there. He beat Democrat Stacey Abrams, who conceded defeat. This was a rematch, we should note, with the same outcome of their race four years ago. And it does appear that the race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker is headed for a runoff, which could mean control of the Senate won't be known for several weeks. With us now, WABE's Sam Gringlas. He joins us from Atlanta. Good morning, Sam.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Where do - where does the race stand right now? I mean, it's very close, right?

GRINGLAS: Yeah. I mean, it is obviously very tight. To put it almost exactly, Warnock is leading Walker by somewhere around 30,000 votes. They're both hovering around 49%. There are still some ballots to count. But in Georgia, you got to top 50% to win. So what we are probably looking at is a runoff and another four weeks of this campaign.

MARTIN: So the candidates both came out last night and gave messages. Tell us what they said.

GRINGLAS: Well, I basically camped out all night at Warnock headquarters in this big hotel ballroom. And just before 2 a.m., the senator came out for one last update.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I may be a little tired for now.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNOCK: But whether it's later tonight or tomorrow or four weeks from now, we will hear from the people of Georgia.

(CHEERING)

GRINGLAS: Now, Walker sent his folks home a little bit earlier, but he basically told them to stick with him through it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HERSCHEL WALKER: I'm telling you right now, I'm like Ricky Bobby.

(LAUGHTER)

WALKER: I don't come to lose.

MARTIN: Little "Talladega Nights" reference.

GRINGLAS: Yep.

MARTIN: Nice. So remind us what the runoff is going to look like. And just a reminder, Raphael Warnock actually won this seat in a runoff election two years ago, right?

GRINGLAS: Yeah. And if you remember that runoff from four years ago, it determined which party controlled the U.S. Senate - excuse me, two years ago. So if the Senate hinges on Georgia again, that could certainly shake up this race. What we do know is this race was already one of the most expensive in the country. So this state would just be basically blanketed with ads beyond Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the governor's race. Brian Kemp bested Stacey Abrams again, and it was not close.

GRINGLAS: Yeah. Kemp actually improved his margin over the last time, and that is despite more than a million new voters registering since then.

INSKEEP: Wow.

GRINGLAS: And - yeah. And something interesting that I noticed in the lead-up to this election is this existence of split-ticket voters - you know, people who voted for the Republican for governor, Kemp, and who voted for the Democrat, Warnock, for Senate.

MARTIN: So what does that mean? If that happened, people split their votes between parties now, does that calculus from voters change in a runoff situation if it becomes clear that their vote then is going to determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate?

GRINGLAS: Yeah. I mean, it's certainly a big question that will shape what this runoff looks like. Another is the potential for former President Donald Trump to announce he is running for president, which would also be a totally new variable that influxes into this race, too.

MARTIN: Right. Sam Gringlas from member station WABE in Atlanta, staying up very late, being up very early. Thank you, Sam.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Rachel.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should take a moment just to note the calendar here. If there was a runoff, it would be in December in Georgia. It would be over the next several weeks. And former President Trump has said he'll make some big announcement, I believe, on November 15. He's not a reliable guide to his own future behavior - we should note that. But he has said he will make some big announcement on November 15.

Now, this election turned a lot of focus on the process of voting itself, and NPR's Miles Parks covers voting. He's in our studios. Good morning.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: In a way, this is reassuring. There were so many fears of voter intimidation and threats, and I'm not saying there was nothing across the country, but by and large, it seems Americans just went out and voted like they always do.

PARKS: I know. When Election Day is boring, it is really good news, right?

INSKEEP: Yeah.

PARKS: And I do feel like - I mean, there were - I want to be clear - a number of kind of isolated, small issues all over the country...

INSKEEP: Sure.

PARKS: ...Which is normal anytime you're transacting, you know, millions and millions of pieces of paper, right?

INSKEEP: Yeah.

PARKS: The most high-profile instance was in Maricopa County, Ariz., where a number of ballot tabulators malfunctioned due to a printer error. It was fixed after a couple of hours. But we saw members on the far right really immediately start pushing that this was some evidence of some fraud conspiracy, including the Republican governor candidate, Kari Lake.

MARTIN: Well, because...

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARI LAKE: Two minutes into voting, we had people being told, well, you're going to have to put your little ballot over here into another box. Guys, the fake media back there tried to tell us we were wrong for asking questions about our elections.

INSKEEP: We will just note that there seems to have been nothing there, just as Donald Trump lost the election in 2020, which I believe is something that she's rejected.

PARKS: Yeah. And, you know, we should say also that election experts were expecting this. They basically said we're going to see probably a number of isolated mistakes in this election, and we're also going to see a number of actors probably jump on those mistakes to try to say they're evidence of some conspiracy. They're not. You know, this is everything kind of going as planned.

INSKEEP: There is another factor here, though, and that is the matter of people who say the election system is corrupt, people who reject what dozens of judges and thousands of election officials from both parties affirmed in the 2020 election who rejected Donald Trump's defeat in 2020, and many of them were running for office yesterday. What do you learn from those races?

PARKS: They are. These are secretary of state races. I've been monitoring them all over the country. We're still waiting on the three swing states, which are kind of the key states we've been watching - Nevada, Michigan and Arizona - where Democrats are running against fairly extreme Republican candidates who all say they think the 2020 election was stolen, and importantly, because of that, they want to restrict access to things like early voting, mail ballots. So we're still waiting on results in those races. We have seen a number of election-denying candidates win, though, in some more Republican strongholds - places like Indiana, Wyoming, Alabama.

And election officials are really, really worried about that trend because you look ahead to the 2024 election, and you've got, potentially, people kind of pushing different narratives about the security of the election. We didn't see that in 2020. Election officials generally were on the same page about the security of that election. It could be really messy for voters to try to figure out what's going on.

INSKEEP: Although I will take note - Alabama, Wyoming, Indiana, at this point in history, none of them is exactly a swing state. They would be expected to be close, although who knows in 2024.

PARKS: Absolutely. But you can imagine what would happen if voting officials in those states were saying things about the election systems potentially in other states. It could just muddy the waters, which is what, you know, election officials are really worried about.

INSKEEP: When you talk overall with election officials, how do they feel the system has held up here in 2022?

PARKS: I think they feel very, very confident and excited, honestly, about the fact that they were able to put this election forward in the way they did, considering they've seen a historic amount of threats and pressure this election cycle.

INSKEEP: Miles, thanks so much.

PARKS: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Miles Parks.

It is the morning after the election, and it's going to be some time before we know all the results. We know that it has not been a huge Republican win, although Republicans still have an excellent chance to take control of the House of Representatives, and the Senate is still up for grabs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.