Midterm elections takeaways: Biden's agenda helped Dems, abortion concerns tipped scale

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's unrelenting election optimism may not have been entirely misplaced.

Biden was insistent throughout the fall that his presidency could defy the odds and that the Democratic Party would not suffer the steep midterm losses that were associated with his predecessors. 

As of Wednesday morning, Democrats were still expected to lose their House majority, with dozens of races too close to call. But a handful of front-line lawmakers who were elected in a 2018 wave and are seen as rising stars in the Democratic Party have already been declared safe.

They include Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Sharice Davids of Kansas. Democratic Reps. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey were also reelected.

The big surprise of the night was Pennsylvania, where Democrats succeeded in flipping a seat with John Fetterman. 

Here are four other takeaways about what happened Tuesday night:

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore at Bowie State University on November 7, 2022 in Bowie, Maryland.

Campaigning on Biden's agenda (even without him) worked

Biden did not visit Nevada, Georgia or Arizona, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly was fending off his Republican challenger in early results.

He also avoided battleground New Hampshire, where Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan easily defeated Republican state Sen. Dan Boldoc.

One of his last stops on the campaign trail was to Pennsylvania, where he stumped for Fetterman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro. Fetterman won a close race against former President Donald Trump's chosen candidate Mehmet Oz, while Shapiro cruised to victory over his election-denying Republican opponent Doug Mastriano.

Democrats are holding up Shapiro's victory as evidence that Biden's message about the election being a choice between democracy and the rule of law and MAGA Republicans struck the right chord with voters.

They also noted that even in the states Biden did not visit, many Democrats who campaigned on his agenda, namely infrastructure and economic investments, won close competitions.

Ever the optimist:Biden on midterm elections: 'I am optimistic'

The anxiety election:Midterm rallies leave Democrats feeling nostalgic for Obama, amid tepid support for Biden

Democrat's big decision:Who will go first in the 2024 primary election? Democrats are debating the order

Abortion was a bigger concern than expected

Inflation was a bigger concern for voters than abortion, but not by as much  as polling immediately before the election suggested. 

Nearly a third of voters nationally said inflation was their top concern, and 27% said abortion was their priority in exit polling.

Abortion was mainly an issue for voters who backed Democratic congressional candidates, 44% of whom identified it as their top priority in exit polling. Almost half of the voters who cast their ballots for Republican congressional candidates said they were concerned about inflation.

Support for abortion rights in most or all cases was high – rising to 60% from 51% in the last election – indicating that voters shared Democrats’ opinion on the issue, even if it was a not a major factor in their vote.

A ballot measure inserting abortion rights into Michigan's state constitution passed, and the question appeared to boost Democratic candidates in close contests, including Hassan, who gave it prominent placement in their campaign messages.

The issue was less effective for Democratic candidates in long-shot Senate races in Missouri, Florida and elsewhere.

America votes:A tense nation casts a vote for smooth midterm election despite Arizona voting issues

Georgia speaks:After voting in the midterms, Georgia residents share what issues matter to them most

Biden's message:Why Biden's closing argument worries some Democrats and could miss the mark with midterm voters

Outcome will reshape the next two years of Biden's term

Republican control of the House would stall Biden’s prospective agenda the last two years of his term and almost certainly lead to legislative gridlock. 

His party will not have the votes it needs to codify Roe v. Wade, protect same-sex marriage, reform immigration laws or pass an assault weapons ban.

GOP leaders have promised to spend their time investigating his administration's messy withdrawal with Afghanistan, pandemic assistance and the origins of the coronavirus. They have also pledged to repeal funding in the Inflation Reduction Act for the IRS to hire more agents and crack down on wealthy tax cheats.

They also have signaled plans to dial back federal spending they say is fueling inflation.

Some members of the potential Republican majority have talked about trying to impeach members of Biden's administration.

All sights turn to 2024

Democratic losses could have been worse. What that means for Biden's possible reelection bid will take time to unravel.

Biden will be hard-pressed to make a decision by early next year. He turns 80 this month, and some Democrats have pushed him to forgo another White House run.

Party officials plan to meet in Washington in less than a month to discuss the order states will vote in the Democratic presidential primary in the next election, clearing a key hurdle for potential 2024 candidates to launch their operations if Biden decides to sit the election out.