(The Hill) – Democrats were bracing for a terrible night.
But as the clock neared midnight on the East Coast on Tuesday, Democrats were feeling something unusual for them on election night: a pleasant sense of surprise.
GOP victories in Senate races in New Hampshire and Colorado had not come to fruition, keeping Democratic hopes alive that the party could hold on to the Senate majority.
There is no guarantee that the midterms will end with such a result.
But Democrats were feeling hopeful as they watched returns trickle in from Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman was holding a slim lead over. Republican Mehmet Oz; and Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker were seesawing back and forth throughout the night.
In the House, Democrats won two tight contests in Virginia districts, where incumbents Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger both won second terms.
In Rhode Island, Democrat Seth Magaziner pulled off an upset in a district seen as leaning toward the GOP. Republican Allan Fung conceded the race with 99 percent of the vote counted and the Democrat clinging to a lead of more than three percentage points.
In New York, Democrat Kathy Hochul rolled to a victory in a race that had tightened over the last few weeks. Democrats also picked up governor’s mansions in Maryland and Massachusetts. Neither were a surprise, but both were making Democrats feel good about themselves.
“I’ve been expecting a massive red wave but that doesn’t seem to be happening — at least so far,” one top strategist said, just before midnight. “It’s a nail-biter for sure, but we’re still in the game.”
Republicans, who had been bracing for a massive night, were starting to recalculate.
“Definitely not a Republican wave, that is for darn sure,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during an appearance on NBC.
On MSNBC, anchor Nicolle Wallace, who served as a top aide to former president George W. Bush, also echoed that sentiment.
“This is not the night Republicans thought they were going to have,” Wallace told her network colleagues.
At the same time, Graham still expressed confidence that the end result would be a GOP Senate.
“I think we’re going to be at 51, 52 when it’s all said and done in the Senate,” he said.
Democrats were filled with anxiety during the 2020 election, and that night began with some disappointments as Democrat Joe Biden fell behind President Donald Trump in various states, with Florida called relatively early in the night.
In 2016, Democrats expecting to party at Hillary Clinton’s campaign event in New York ended up gasping as Trump pulled an upset.
Expectations for the party ahead of Tuesday had fallen, with some in the party beginning to point fingers over who was to blame for the party’s messaging ahead of Election Day.
This all led to a sense on Tuesday night, as Michael Bennet won reelection to the Senate from Colorado and Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire, that the party at least had a fighting chance to hold the Senate and keep a likely GOP victory in the House at a manageable number.
Even if Republican Sen. Ron Johnson held on to a lead in Wisconsin, as many expected when the day began, Democrats said they had a chance to keep the Senate with victories by Fetterman in Pennsylvania and Warnock in Georgia.
Vote tallies in a third critical race in Nevada between Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto had yet to be tabulated late Tuesday.
In Georgia, Democrats are hoping that if Walker ends up with more votes than Warnock, that he will not get above 50 percent. That would force the two candidates into a Dec. 6 runoff. Some Democrats say Warnock’s chances would be stronger then, since GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who rolled to an easy victory on Tuesday, would not be on the ballot in December.
The early results were also a boon to Biden, whose low approval ratings had led many Democrats and Republicans alike to think he and his party were in for a terrible night.
Instead, a relatively good night for Biden seemed more than possible.
Strategists predicted that Biden could emerge from the night relatively unscathed.
“Anyone who thought this would be a bad night for Biden was mistaken,” one strategist said.
All eyes will be on Biden in the coming weeks as attention begins to focus on the 2024 presidential campaign and the current president’s plans.
The chances that Biden would run again seemed to be rising in the early hours of Wednesday morning.