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WASHINGTON — The 2022 midterm elections were full of surprises.
Republicans began the year favored to notch big victories, yet they fell short and barely captured control of the House. Democrats defied long odds as the party in power to expand their Senate majority and pick up two governor’s seats.
In swing states, and even some red areas, voters rejected many GOP candidates up and down the ticket, including those endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
And Democrats, despite overperforming in tough areas for the party, melted down spectacularly in one of their strongholds.
Here are some of the most shocking results.
Kari Lake, the charismatic former TV anchor in Arizona’s largest media market, Phoenix, and a protégé of the MAGA brand, was the favorite to become the state’s next governor after a campaign in which she emphatically embraced Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Lake was widely seen as the election-denying candidate with the best chance to win a statewide race in a key battleground in the 2022 elections. Nearly every poll in the final stretch showed her leading her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, the outgoing Arizona secretary of state, who was facing internal criticism for what some in the party called a lackluster campaign.
Despite it all, Lake lost — by 17,117 votes out of more than 2.5 million.
With Lake driving the top of the ticket, Arizona Republicans went down in statewide races for governor, the Senate, attorney general and secretary of state. She’s one of a small handful of Trump-backed candidates who have refused to accept their defeats.
Lake’s defeat was part of a trend in competitive states: Trump-aligned election deniers like Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania also lost in governor’s elections.
Senate candidates running close to the MAGA brand, like Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, also lost.
Secretary of state contenders who echoed Trump’s fabricated claims of a stolen election lost, including Mark Finchem in Arizona, Kristina Karamo in Michigan and Jim Marchant in Nevada.
And in a more dramatic twist, two House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump — Peter Meijer of Michigan and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington — were defeated in the primaries by GOP candidates who lost those seats to Democrats in November. One of them was backed by Trump: Joe Kent, who lost in a major upset to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in a GOP-friendly Washington district.
It was a resounding series of defeats for election deniers.
In a sense, there was a red wave in 2022. It crashed on the shores of Long Island and swept through New York — but crested before it could travel any farther. Republicans flipped a remarkable four House seats statewide, a crucial result that enabled their narrow 220-213 majority. One of the fallen incumbents was House campaign chief Sean Patrick Maloney, who lost his redrawn suburban-rural district to GOP upstart Mike Lawler.
Democrats were blown out on Long Island, losing all four contests and netting the GOP two seats — one was won by George Santos, who is alleged to have misrepresented major parts of the résumé he ran on, according to The New York Times. (Santos on Monday admitted lying about his job experience and college education in an interview with the New York Post.)
Some of the damage was self-inflicted. The Democratic-controlled Legislature tried to draw a new congressional map that would help the party pick up seats, but the courts threw it out. Maloney wasn’t the only Democratic casualty. His decision to run in the 17th District pushed Rep. Mondaire Jones to run in a new district, where he lost his primary. Rep. Carolyn Maloney was pitted against Rep. Jerry Nadler in a new Manhattan district and lost, too.
Taken together, it was nothing short of a disaster for the party in the Democratic stronghold, particularly in a year when it overperformed nationally and nearly held control of the House.
Democrats made major gains in the critical battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania — both core to the winning electoral coalitions that launched Trump and President Joe Biden into office.
In Pennsylvania, Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro and Sen.-elect John Fetterman defeated Trump-backed Republicans Mastriano and Mehmet Oz by 15 points and 5 points, respectively. Their wins led Democrats to win every competitive House race and gain control of the state House for the first time in more than a decade — although recent vacancies have called that majority into question.
Democrats won so convincingly by tying Mastriano — a right-wing state senator whose hard-line anti-abortion-rights stance and presence outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, revolted moderates — to candidates up and down the ballot, including Oz, who struggled to distance himself from Mastriano to appeal to centrist voters.
In Michigan, Trump was focused on getting close allies who boosted his false assertions of a stolen election into office at all levels of government. Meanwhile, the governor’s primary was rocked by multiple disqualifications of high-profile candidates, leading Republicans to coalesce around Dixon, a conservative commentator.
The results were disastrous for Republicans. Democratic statewide incumbents all defeated GOP rivals and took control of both branches of the Legislature. A Trump-backed state Senate candidate who lost his primary predicted: “I don’t think you’re going to see Michigan flip red for a long, long time.”
In August, a Democrat won a House seat in Alaska for the first time in 50 years. It would be only three months before that Democrat, Mary Peltola, won again — for a full term in the House.
Peltola was boosted by Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system and disaffection with her Trump-backed Republican opponent, Sarah Palin, the state’s former governor and onetime vice presidential nominee, who built a reputation as a right-wing firebrand as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
Peltola became the first Alaska Native elected to Congress when she won the special election in August to fill the seat of the late GOP Rep. Don Young.
There was no greater harbinger of how the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would affect the election than in Kansas, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum measure in August that would have allowed the state to ban abortion.
Even in the reddest of the Republican-leaning state’s counties, the abortion-rights side of the argument won. Take, for instance, Franklin County, which Trump carried by 40 points in 2020. The “no” option on the referendum measure, which was what abortions-rights supporters advocated for, won by more than 13 points. The trend was repeated in a number of pro-Trump counties.
Ultimately, the August result in Kansas led Republicans across the country to scramble to adjust their messaging to try to better align with moderates. But the efforts seemed to fall short.
That was true in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, defeated Republican Derek Schmidt in her re-election effort — a result that also took observers by surprise.
An incumbent who virtually nobody thought was endangered was Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, the far-right MAGA Republican who was first elected in a safe GOP district in 2020 and rode into Congress seeking to carry her gun on Capitol grounds.
Yet her district — which spans the rural west of the state and includes some areas around Colorado Springs — fired a warning shot at her brand of politics: Boebert survived by just 546 votes against her Democratic rival, Adam Frisch. The race went to a recount, and it was one of the last contests in the country to be finalized.
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.
Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.
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The seven most shocking results from the 2022 midterm elections – NBC News