A series of contests Tuesday in New York and Florida provided valuable clues about the 2022 midterm election landscape. They also crystallized which prominent Democrats are poised to return to Congress and presented a clash between Republican establishment figures and the party's far-right rabble-rousers.
Here are six takeaways from Tuesday's primaries and elections:
Abortion message galvanizes Democrats: Pat Ryan's stunning victory in a bellwether House special election shines a light on the Democrats’ ability to weaponize abortion rights to turn out voters.
It was the biggest test of the political salience of the issue since Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, allowing state legislators to outlaw abortion. Ryan put the issue front and center in the purple district, connecting it to a larger battle for “freedom” in the United States.
The message proved to be powerful. Republican candidate Marc Molinaro unsuccessfully sought to neutralize the issue and make the election a referendum on “one-party” Democratic rule, inflation and crime, a cocktail of messages the GOP is relying on this fall.
In a year many Republicans have predicted will deliver a “red wave,” Ryan was outperforming President Joe Biden’s narrow victory margin in 2022, with 99% of the vote counted. The district has closely reflected the national mood, and after the result was projected, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney painted the fall of Roe as the cataclysmic event that’ll keep Democrats in charge of the House, despite the historical midterm trend of the president's party losing seats.
New York redistricting chaos sinks prominent Democrats: New York’s scrambled congressional map pitted numerous Democrats against each other. The most powerful lawmaker to lose Tuesday was Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, who lost to Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chair, after their Upper West and Upper East Side districts were merged.
In addition, first-term Rep. Mondaire Jones’ hopes of staying in Congress were rapidly fading as he trailed two rivals in a crowded primary for New York’s redrawn 10th Congressional District as of midday Wednesday. The race is still too close to call, according to NBC News.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Jones on Wednesday as “a respected progressive voice on Capitol Hill and a relentless fighter for working families,” and said he is “leaving a principled legacy during his short period of time in Congress.”
Apart from them, other New York Democrats held off primary challengers and advanced to the general election, including Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Jamaal Bowman. It was largely a self-inflicted wound for the state party after an earlier map drawn to maximize its partisan gains was thrown out by the courts.
Progressives self-destruct in lower Manhattan: The Democratic primary in the 10th District was a battle for Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, one of the most progressive districts in the entire country. But progressives may have fumbled a wide open layup by offering up a crowded field of candidates and paving a path for the relatively more moderate Daniel Goldman.
With 98 percent of the vote counted, Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, led with 25.7%, ahead of three progressive candidates (including Jones) who combined for nearly 59% of the vote.
Fears about the left’s failure to consolidate were voiced before the primary, but numerous candidates refused to drop out. (NBC News has not projected a winner in the race yet.)
Right-wing flamethrowers fall short: Some of the most controversial candidates on the GOP primary ballot did not advance.
In Florida’s 11th Congressional District, Laura Loomer, the self-proclaimed Islamophobe who is banned from Facebook, Twitter and even Uber Eats, fell short in a challenge against Rep. Daniel Webster. In New York’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Andrew Garbarino, who former President Donald Trump repeatedly blasted after he supported the bipartisan infrastructure package and independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, easily defeated a challenge from veteran Robert Cornicelli, who falsely said the 2020 election was rigged.
In New York’s 23rd District, state GOP chairman Nick Langworthy bested Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, most famous for his string of incendiary and racist statements over the past 12 years, including a recently unearthed interview he gave last year in which he said Hitler was "the kind of leader we need today." He later said the comments were "a serious mistake" but had been taken out of context.
Compounding matters were a trio of losses at the statehouse level by candidates who gained national attention in recent days. In Oklahoma, Jarrin Jackson and Scott Esk lost after being scrutinized for antisemitic and homophobic comments. In Florida, Luis Miguel was crushed by his opponent after saying he had a plan that would allow Floridians to shoot federal agents on site.
Paladino's loss also represents a major defeat for Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, who endorsed him: Stefanik, R-N.Y., put her weight behind Paladino’s congressional bid almost immediately after Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., resigned from the seat this year, seeking to flex her political muscles in her home state. But the gamble showed the limits of her powers. The endorsement was supposed to show her dominance over the New York GOP, particularly as it related to Langworthy, the state party chairman. Instead, Langworthy is about to be seated in Congress and Stefanik is left to explain what went wrong. Meanwhile, the endorsement caused consternation among others in GOP leadership, given Paladino’s well-documented history of making incendiary and racist comments, as NBC News reported in June.
Compounding matters, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., the chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee and a potential rival of Stefanik’s for a leadership post in the next Congress, backed Langworthy. Banks was quick to celebrate the win.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gets his re-election challenger — but keeps focus on President Joe Biden: At the top of mind in Florida’s 2022 gubernatorial contest is 2024, particularly as it relates to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ potential presidential bid. In a speech he gave near Miami on Tuesday, DeSantis chose to focus not on Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., who won the Democratic primary for governor earlier in the night, but on Biden.
"By you coming out in full force this November, we will send a message to this man in the White House that we are fighting back against his destructive policies, and Florida will be the vanguard of freedom in this country," DeSantis said, according to local NBC affiliate WPTV.
The races DeSantis keyed in on were far down the ballot — he endorsed a slate of 30 candidates for school board who he said are in-line with his education agenda. Most of them either won or advanced to a runoff.
The Florida primary came just days after DeSantis traveled to Pittsburgh and near Youngstown, Ohio, to stump for Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, and J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate nominee in Ohio. And DeSantis, who has led Crist in polls before the primary, also cut a campaign ad this week portraying himself as "Top Gov," in a portrayal of Tom Cruise’s "Top Gun”" character.