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Midterm results show Trump's politics don't hold up in purple states

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Now we're going to look at those polls that you've heard so much about. Before some key races were decided, President Biden took a moment in a press conference on Wednesday to, well, bask in his party's success in the midterms.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This was supposed to be a red wave. You guys, you were talking about us losing 30 to 50 seats, and this was going to - nowhere near - that's not going to happen.

RASCOE: Results are still coming in on several races. Control of the House is still undecided, although Republicans have a slim edge. One thing is certain - that red wave was more of a minor spray. NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been watching the results of this year's midterm election, and he joins me now. Welcome.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: The perception going into election night was that Republicans were going to have a big night. You know, the media said that, as well. Let's be clear. But that didn't happen. So were the polls just dead wrong, or did people, you know, misinterpret them?

MONTANARO: Well, I always think, like I say, it's important to consider the margins of error in some of these things, have an open mind that we don't know exactly what the shape of the electorate is going to be on Election Day. But that said, in the Senate, the polls were actually pretty much exactly right, especially if you take out bad polls or Republican polls that skewed some of the averages. And some of these averages include everybody. And as my grandfather used to say, what you put in is what you get out, and he used to use different words than that, and I cleaned it up for you.

RASCOE: Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

MONTANARO: Yeah. But even with those, Nevada was pretty much tied all year. Fetterman had been ahead in Pennsylvania. Mark Kelly was ahead in Arizona. And Georgia was basically a tie. You know, so that's played out exactly. You know, the House is a little bit of a different story, and I wouldn't say it was the polls that were wrong. It was how some analysts and parties, in some places, ran with a narrative that Republicans had the momentum but didn't include proper caveats about what might happen on Election Day.

But no one, I have to say, was predicting a 30- to 50-seat pickup for Republicans like President Biden was talking about there. That's really a straw man, you know. The only people saying that, perhaps, were overly exuberant Republicans, perhaps people who didn't know better. The Cook Political Report had their estimate at 12 to 25. Republicans right now are at plus eight. That's on the low end of that estimate. But a few things - not all the races are called, and there were a ton of very, very close races within a few points. If they tip the other direction, they'd be right in that range.

RASCOE: So we've gotten very used to having wave elections in the past few cycles, but this year doesn't seem to have worked that way. What was different?

MONTANARO: Clearly, three things - the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe, some very good Democratic candidates in the House, as Senator Klobuchar was talking about, who held up very well and the types of extreme candidates Republicans put up in many places. And I think they tie together. You know, a big message in this election was that people were saying they don't want extreme. You know, the court's decision was so out of step with the rest of the country, and it happened because Donald Trump was able to appoint three conservative justices to the court.

It was a political earthquake, really. It fired up voters left and center and some on the center-right - you know, thought that they - that the court had gone too far and Republicans had gone too far. We saw, for example, in Arizona, exit polls showed 40% of voters said they were angry about the Roe decision, and anger is a huge motivator. The numbers were similar in Pennsylvania and Nevada, and there's going to have to be, clearly, a reckoning within the Republican Party because Trump's politics just do not hold up well in purple states and purple districts.

RASCOE: I know you are still looking at data from these elections, but is there something else that you are seeing that has surprised you about what voters did this cycle?

MONTANARO: Well, two different sort of things. Florida - that it went so quickly for Republicans. For Ron DeSantis, for example, the governor there up for reelection, Florida just might not be a swing state anymore. Also, less talked about - the 3rd congressional district in Washington state - Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler had held this seat, but she voted for Trump's impeachment and was ousted by the right. The irony that they ousted her because she impeached Trump, and now a Democrat has taken over that seat, indicative of the broader message in this election.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much, Domenico.

RASCOE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.