12 critical lessons from lost red wave

By Taxpayers Association of Oregon

Here are 12 reasons of various perspectives on why the much-predicted red wave did not materialize and what candidates of all political stripes can learn from.

1. Most of the U.S. Senate seats open for re-election in 2022 were predominantly Republican.   Because of this there were fewer Democrat seats in play (14) and much more Republican seats up for election (21) which put the Republican Party on the defense.  The tables will be greatly turned in 2024 when mostly Democrat Senate seats must be defended.

2. Most of the mid-term swings greatest gains occur when a political party starts from further behind.   Some of the greatest swings in mid-term elections in American history occurred when the takeover political party started off father behind.   Many of the seats they gained were easier to win simply because the seats they had to pick up were Congressional Districts where they already had a majority of the voters.  The 1994 Republican red wave happened because the GOP was out of power in the House for 40 years and coming from a position being way behind.  In 2022, Republicans already were close to a ruling majority and in order to advance had to gain more seats that were more competitive based on the balance of voter registration in the district.  Simply, it takes a bigger national consensus to win from a better position and that national consensus was not strong enough.

3. Most of America was not directly impacted by the record-breaking crime wave.   Crime exploded in certain areas causing voters in safer areas (most areas) to not care about crime as much.  One PEW poll showed among Democrat voters, roughly 33% of White Democrat voters said that crime was NOT a major issue, while a vast majority of Black Democrat voters 82% in the same poll said crime was a major issue.  This is why voters in crime cities voted for tough-on-crime politicians while voters in the same city in the safer suburbs voted for de-fund the police candidates (See New York Mayor race, San Fransisco DA recall results).   New York under a crime wave, saw Republicans trounce soft-on-crime Congressional Democrats in their own strong districts.   Portland Oregon voters tossed out by big numbers the de-fund the police candidate JoAnn Hardesty despite her incumbency and her sweeping all the liberal endorsements.  The crime wave may have been a powerful election message but only had limited power to fuel a larger red wave.  Additionally, because candidates ran on the crime issue without actually saying what they would do about crime also took additional potential away from the crime issue.

(This poll above explains why white liberal voters continue to vote for crime-causing policies which impact Black neighborhoods, while Black voter neighborhoods are voting for more police help)

4. Terrible candidates.   Associated Press polling showed that generally, Democrats were more enthusiastic about their candidates than Republicans by wide margins.    The most news-making of the candidates were outsider and new face candidates, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker and Donald Bolduc.  These candidates suffered from similar problems.  First of all, they were so much of an outsider that they had trouble raising money.  The Wall Street Journal ran a special analysis on how these candidates grossly under-performed in traditional money raising and had to be bailed out by the National Senate GOP PACs in disproportionate ways compared to other candidates.   Compare this to Glenn Youngkin (2021 Virginia Governor upset) who was a similar outsider but self-financed his own race by the millions and proved to be a better fundraiser than most lifelong candidates.   The other problem, was that many of these new candidates publicly attacked the Senate leadership of their own party which only added confusion and in-fighting at a time when they should be adding clarity and coalition building.   Most candidates wait until after they are elected to attack their own party leadership. Ultimately, the Democrats did enough polling on these candidates that they spent over $36 million of Democrat PAC money on helping these Republicans get elected in 13 Republican Primaries in hopes they would collapse in the General.  Ticket splitting was another truth telling sign of evidence that Republican candidate quality suffered in 2022.  Ohio Republican Governor candidate Dewine won by 25% while J.D. Vance won by a few points in the exact same state.  Georgia Governor Brian Kent beat media-superstar Stacey Abrams by 8% while Walker lost his race (now in runoff) in the same state.   New Hampshire Republican Governor candidate won by +16% but the Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc lost by -9%.  Such widespread ticket-splitting by these margins is a sign of a troubled candidate.  Finally, consider the fact that Vance, Walker and Masters all struggled to win (or lost) in a deep red or red leaning state.  All three should have performed better and the ticket splitting is proof.  These candidates may be good people, good on the issues, and have good resumes, but by fairly applied historical metrics showed that they widely under-performed on final votes and is why the AP exit poll showed that Republicans were significantly less excited about their candidates in what should have been a bigger red wave year for their party.

5. Inflation was a muted weapon.   Two different survey methods revealed that although voters placed inflation as a top priority, upon asking follow-up questions revealed that nearly half of voters (of diverse backgrounds) saw inflation being out of control of politicians’ ability to fix and more of a global phenomenon. Candidates were blasting away at inflation but voters were not tying it to the candidates as much as the candidates wished they had.  Once again, invoking Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s success in 2021, as he ran TV ads not just talking about inflation but pledging to abolish taxes on groceries and cut the gas tax.  Youngkin created a clear path to beating inflation that people could relate to and visualize in their own lives.  This was in contrary to the 2022 election where inflation was criticized without any specific solutions people could identify with — nor tying inflation to specific votes by their opposing candidate.

6. Liberals took up taxpayer issues.  Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman ran many ads pledging that he would cut taxes and that Dr. Oz would raise taxes.  Even in Oregon, Tina Kotek, in one of the TV debates attacked Republican Christine Drazan for voting against a tax cut (which was a lie because the supposed tax cut was part of a much larger tax hike making the whole thing a ruse).   Democrat U.S. Senators, Georgia’s Greg Warnock, Arizona’s Mark Kelly, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto all ran on cutting taxes earlier this year.   Fighting taxes remains a winning issue.

7. Independents favored Democrats.  Exit polling showed that Independent voters (which is larger than both the Democrat and GOP party) favored Democrat candidates by 4%.   This helped dismantle the potential of a red wave.  This is a staggering data point since Independents disapprove of Biden by nearly 80%.  It will take more research to analyze what motivated these Independents in 2022.    We do however favor post-election analysis by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro (he has 5 million You Tube subscribers — the size of Network TV ratings).  Shapiro emphasized that Independent Voters want stability, non-partisanship, peace and problem solving.    When Republicans engage in inter-party civil wars and drama which is magnified by the media it ends up turning off Independents.    When Republicans talk more about the investigations they plan to launch if they take control rather than the bills they plan to pass, it can chase away Independent voters.  For instance, surveys showed that that many Independent voters were not persuaded by the way the January 6th hearings were handled — now the same voters are supposed to be excited over Republicans vowing revenge with their own hearings on Hunter Biden?   It is not about the worthiness of investigations but rather about priorities and what message a political party is sending to voters who are not of that party.

(Chart above: Republicans during summer had Independent voter support and then lost it in the fall.  The Independent voter loss in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona is shocking.  This is more proof that Republicans had both a messaging and candidate problem as measured by Independent/NAV voters — the largest voting base in America)

8. Young voters favored Democrats.  Exit polls showed that voters under 30 favored Democrats by 28%.  Those under age 44 favored Democrats by 4%.   As Republicans made huge gains among Blacks and Hispanics there was significant loss by new voters.

9. Republican messaging was muddled.  The Republican House created the Commitment to America which was a list of broad talking points.   Two months later and we and people we know can’t recall more than one item from the Commitment list.   Voters need more clarity and tangible action points.  For instance, our team watched many hours of Dr. Oz interviews over the past five months and can’t recall a single bill or action item he pledged to do.  Whereas, John Fetterman pledged to raise the minimum wage, cut taxes and end the filibuster which represented red meat to a heavy blue state of Pennsylvania.

10. The curse of late voting.  In Pennsylvania, 70% of Democrats voted early, whereas only 20% of Republicans had voted. The results were the biggest election blunder of the entire national election.  Fox News host, Laura Ingram, scolded the Republicans for late voting and then focused on the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff in a plea for early voting.  Ingram said, “…the GOP cannot count on this coming from behind strategy in states like New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Democrats are going to be ready to turn out their voters on the first day of early voting [in Georgia Senate runoff]. Going forward the Republicans are going to have to do the same. They did this Miami-Dade County and that was fantastic. They got a lot of early voting in Miami-Dade County. The old turnout models don’t work anymore.” Late voting in the final 72-hours of an election is statistically the preferred method of Oregon conservatives.   This creates problems and handicaps for candidates. For starters, Oregon unions have a strong ballot harvesting operation. They mass collect ballots as early as possible.  One advantage is that the unions know immediately who has voted because they have their ballots in their hands.  This allows them to focus their precious campaign resources on reaching the remaining voters who are undecided.  Republicans waste their campaign dollars sending postcards, phone calls and door knockers to voters who agree with them 100% (in fact their ballot may be filled out) but wait until Election day to drop them.  Some local party leaders encourage people to wait until the last minute and as a result, it wastes tens of thousands of dollars and manpower. Lessons from Pennsylvania show that early voting scored big for Democrats and early voting in Florida scored big for Republicans.

11. Top of the ticket matters.  Just as Ohio’s Dewine (+25%) helped lift JD Vance, Nevada’s Joe Lambardo (+10%) helped lift Laxalt, Florida’s DeSantis (+20%) helped lift Rubio, and Georgia’s Kemp (+8%) helped lift Walker, the reverse happened in blue states.  In Pennsylvania, their Republican Governor candidate was a nightmare who lost by nearly 16%.   This likely depressed help for Dr. Oz who was already trying to gain ground in a heavy Democrat state.  In Oregon, the other top ticket race was for U.S. Senate.  The Republican candidate had her own controversies and raised less than $100,000.  Her lousy performance meant that there was no media pressure to debate Ron Wyden and therefore missed a chance to hold him accountable to an audience of a potential quarter million Oregonians.   Having a free ride, Ron Wyden used his millions to do lavish TV ads that complimented other Democrat messages.  This blown opportunity was a re-run of two years ago when the exact same under-performing Republican candidate ran against Senator Jeff Merkley.  She again raised less than $100,000 and did so poorly that no TV debates were held.  Senator Merkley never had to answer for a single vote.  Merkely got a free ride.  Interestingly, the Republican candidate was so toxic that Tina Kotek ran an ad tying her Christine Drazan.   As a result, Governor candidate Christine Drazan had to take the lead all on her own and help lift up the races beneath her.  Data shows that the more popular the top ticket candidates are, the more likely voters will vote down ballot to smaller races.   Republicans may wish to rethink nominating a 5-time perpetual, professional losing candidate as their choice for the top of their ticket because it costs the loss of TV debates and a direct loss in down ballot voting.

12. Media bias.  A study by the Media Research Center analyzing 115 election stories from (ABC, NBC, CBS) discovered that 87% of the stories treated Republican candidates negatively.   One survey found that nearly half of all Democrat voters think the media is biased in favor of their own party.


Take note for 2024.

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