Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker cited the movie "Talladega...

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker cited the movie "Talladega Nights" at his election party in Georgia on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in encouraging supporters to hang on. "I'm like Ricky Bobby. I don't come to lose," he said. Credit: TNS/HYOSUB SHIN

WASHINGTON — As the vote counting continues and candidates await final outcomes in some key races for Congress, Tuesday's midterm elections have defied expectations of a Republican red wave and a backlash against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Republicans likely will take the majority in the U.S. House, but they will do it with a smaller margin than predicted after Democrats won races pundits had called very close in Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.

Control of the U.S. Senate hangs on the outcomes of the elections in three states: Arizona and Nevada, where officials still were counting votes, and Georgia, where a runoff election on Dec. 6 will decide the winner.

“While we don't know all the results yet,” Biden said at a news conference Wednesday, “here's what we do know: While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, it didn't happen.”

He continued: “While any seat loss is painful — some good Democrats didn't win last night — Democrats had a strong night. And we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than a Democratic president’s first midterm election in the last 40 years.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Republicans had picked up about a net of five Democratic House seats they will need to become the majority party with 218 votes, according to projections by The Associated Press and The Washington Post.

That net figure included the flipping from Democrat to Republican of four New York seats — including two on Long Island.

Pundits still have not called winners in about 30 House contests nationwide.

Speaking late Tuesday after the polls had closed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Republican leader, said it was, "clear that we are going to take the house back.”

The projected victory of Democrat John Fetterman in the Pennsylvania Senate race — flipping a Republican seat — buoyed the hopes of Democrats to retain control of the Senate, even if it remains 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote.

No winner has been projected in races in Nevada, Arizona and Georgia for seats Democrats now hold.

With their pickup in Pennsylvania, Democrats must win at least two of those three races if they are to keep Senate control.

In Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt Jr. led Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by a margin of 50% to 47% with 77% of the votes counted.

Preelection polls had shown Laxalt in the lead by about that margin.

In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, elected two years ago to finish the late Sen. John McCain’s term, led Republican Blake Masters by 51% to 47% with 67% of the vote counted.

In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, also elected in 2020, led Republican Herschel Walker by 49.4% to 48.5% — resulting in a legally required runoff on Dec. 6 because neither of them won 50% or more of the vote.

Frances Lee, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, said she did not expect Republicans to have such narrow lead over Democrats in the midterms.

“I just have difficulty processing the extent to which Democrats exceeded expectations given how negative the public is on the economy, on the direction of the country and on how low President Biden's approval ratings are,” Lee told Newsday.

“I mean, all the fundamentals that we normally look to were in place for a disastrous election," for Democrats, she said. "And that is not what we saw.” 

Lee said the Republicans' slim lead likely was due to former President Donald Trump's presence. He picked candidates, many of them flawed, held rallies and said he would make an announcement about his future on Nov. 15.

“It was a choice election, not a referendum on the president,” she said.

That made it more like a presidential election, Lee said.

“And so, what we saw was kind of a replay of 2020,” she said.

In that election, Biden beat Trump and Democrats carved out their own narrow majorities — 50-50 in the Senate, and an eight-seat margin in the House.

Experts said Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement could play into Democrats’ hands in the Georgia Senate race.

“If he were a true party guy, he should stay quiet until after the runoff is over,” Mike Dawidziak, a political consultant who often works with Republicans, said of Trump.

“But we all know he's not capable of that. No, he's probably going to make the announcement,” Dawidziak said. “And that very well might hurt Walker's chances in a runoff.”