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Why did Republicans wipeout? They gave voters an easy choice. | Editorial

Instead of a red wave, Democrats more than held their own. Voters looked past the economy and crime in an effort to right the American ship of state.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in September.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in September.Read moreAndrew Harnik / AP

Tuesday’s election seemed to have all the makings of a bloodbath for Democrats. Inflation at a 40-year high, surging gun violence, and record gas prices combined to anger voters and sink President Joe Biden’s approval rating to 39%.

But something happened on the way to the polls. Instead of a wipeout, Democrats more than held their own. Republicans may still take control of the House but by a slim margin. The Senate remains a toss-up.

So, what happened?

In short, the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a political earthquake. It energized many voters, especially women outraged to have a basic right taken away after nearly 50 years. Republican efforts to further ban abortion at the state level, even in the case of rape and incest, backfired.

The GOP’s continued attacks on the U.S. election system roused millions of complacent voters to take a stand for democracy. The one-two punch sounded the alarm beyond the usual midterm politics. Basic rights getting stripped away and attacks on American democracy cut to the core of what the country is all about.

» READ MORE: A caustic election cycle ends with Pa. voters opting to preserve abortion rights and defend democracy | Editorial

Voters looked past the economy and crime in an effort to right the American ship of state.

Once in the voting booth, the choices were made even simpler since Republicans nominated so many lousy candidates and had no solutions to the problems facing voters. Meanwhile, the Democrats found a few rising stars and made a strong case to defend further GOP efforts to restrict abortion and undermine democracy.

Some of the most extreme and flawed candidates were the ones endorsed by former President Donald Trump. They included television doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, former football player Herschel Walker in Georgia, and local Fox News anchor Kari Lake in Arizona. It was a band of misfits better suited for Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice than for public office.

The Republicans also lacked a substantive message that resonated with voters.

The GOP poured millions of dollars into negative commercials railing against inflation but offered no solutions. Their big idea was to cut taxes and gut Social Security and Medicare.

Never mind most older Americans depend on those programs and that cutting taxes mainly benefits the very wealthy. The broader problem is that cutting taxes would make inflation worse.

Tax cuts have been a Republican staple in good times and bad. As former President Barack Obama quipped, if an asteroid was headed toward Earth, the GOP’s solution would be to cut taxes.

Republicans rolled out another favorite chestnut of scaring voters about crime. While violence is up across the country, Republicans had no solution other than to blame the Democrats. Their two-for-one message goes like this: Gun violence is raging in cities controlled by Democrats, and the shootings are caused by Black people.

» READ MORE: As Election Day approaches, GOP candidates stoke voter fears by turning to their old playbook on crime | Editorial

Never mind that gun violence on a per capita basis is worse in Republican-controlled red states, or that most mass shootings are carried out by young, white males.

Republicans also have continually opposed any basic gun safety measures from background checks, assault rifle bans, and raising the age limit to purchase weapons. Most Americans overwhelmingly support gun safety measures, including many Republican voters and members of the NRA.

Meanwhile, the Democrats rightly sounded the alarms about abortion and democracy on the ballot. In Pennsylvania, Oz called abortion murder and Doug Mastriano, the losing Trump-backed Republican nominee for governor, said women who get abortions should be charged with murder.

Along the way, several Democratic candidates honed a winning message that others should build on. Wes Moore, a former Army soldier who became the first Black elected governor in Maryland, won with a campaign message to “leave no one behind.” Now that is a policy that really could make America great.

In Colorado, votes are still being counted in a rural, conservative-leaning congressional district where Adam Frisch, the Democratic nominee, challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. Frisch reached out to GOP voters tired of what he calls “angertainment.” He has tried to build a “pro-normal” coalition that works to solve problems.

In Michigan, a slate of Democratic women swept into power, led by the reelection of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Recall that Whitmer survived a kidnapping plot led by Trump supporters.

That, in a nutshell, underscored the stakes for voters.

One political party is standing up for basic rights and defending democracy, while the other is trying to undermine both. That left voters with an easy choice.