The story of President Joe Biden’s election night can be told by the two congratulatory messages he sent about four hours apart.
The first went to Representative Abigail Spannberger of Virginia, and the second went to Pennsylvania Governor John Fetterman. Taken together, the messages are an initial signal to voters who seem bent on overcoming decades of American voters delivering consecutive mid-term losses to a first-term president.
White House officials were cautious early Wednesday morning not to come up with final conclusions, fully aware that votes would be counted in the coming days. In the West Wing filled with veterans, the idea of drawing final conclusions when votes were still being counted and major races remained unjustified was, as one official described, a “fool’s job.”
But on several fronts, Biden’s advisers said they saw the initial results as an early stage in demonstrating that the multifaceted messaging approach – which has drawn criticism for not focusing more on the economy – may have landed more enthusiastically than expected.
There are still millions of votes to be counted, and three disqualification races still hold the keys to a majority in the Senate without justification. One of those – the Georgia Senate contest – is likely to be decided in the runoff a month from now. Republicans still appear on the brink of a majority in the House of Representatives, an outcome laden with dramatically reshaped political, investigational and political ramifications that Biden and his advisers have not had to contend with in their first two years.
But the optimism in the White House about the Democrats’ path to holding on to the Senate was real — even if tempered by reality, the toughest races fought still too close to predict.
The multiple states with abortion-related ballots appeared headed for victories for abortion rights advocates, underscoring the importance of a case Democrats sought to cash in in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss Roe v. Wade.
Also, Democrats facing anti-election Republicans in crucial races for secretaries of state were either victorious or held the lead in races to be the state’s top electoral official. Biden’s move to centralize “democracy on the ballot” has grumbled some Democrats who were worried it wasn’t a voter turnout.
Democrats have also stuck to the governor’s mansion in three critical swing states – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – as lies propelled by former President Donald Trump and his supporters about the 2020 election have spread.
But it was the seventh congressional district in Virginia and the US Senate race in Pennsylvania that really made it clear: The elimination of the midterm elections that affected many of Biden’s predecessors did not materialize.
Just before 10 p.m., when Biden made calls to an initial group of seven Democrats, Spanberger’s race was still seen as too close to call. It was a race that White House officials quietly identified before Election Day as a harbinger of the coming night, and were closely watching.
Although not calling the race close, Biden still offered his congratulations as the front-line Virginia Democrat began expanding its lead, giving the White House confidence that the competition was on its side.
For Biden, Spanberger’s victory carried several layers of importance beyond the broader signal about the political environment. Spannberger, a moderate Democrat who upended her district in the 2018 Democratic wave, is, in the words of one Biden adviser, a “Biden-type Democrat.”
She has outspokenly rejected the progressive proposals that have moved the party in recent years, and largely aligned with Biden’s more moderate view of Democratic politics. But she also delivered a scathing criticism of Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda in recent days for what would become a victory in last year’s trusted blue Virginia governor’s race.
“Nobody elected him to be Roosevelt, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” the New York Times quoted Spanberger as saying.
The notes caught Biden’s attention, and he quickly asked to speak to Spanberger by phone. Within two months, she was in her district holding a state event, even as other frontline Democrats took apparent steps to distance themselves from Biden’s low approval ratings.
With the race turning once and for all, it was a defining moment for Biden and his political team, who entered the night with the view that there was a way to get a Democratic majority in the Senate. They have fought their campaign by pressing Biden’s agenda and relentlessly framing the vote as a tough option at hand, aiming to quell growing talk of a red wave of Republican victories across the country.
If the Spanberger race represented the initial signs of the night more positive than expected, it was Fetterman who provided the exclamation point.
With Democrats clinging to a narrower majority in the Senate, the Pennsylvania seat held by retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey represented the only viable meeting chance in a handful of slander races that looked poised to break either way.
that Fetterman is publicly recovering from a stroke he suffered six months ago, including a debate performance that prompted some Democrats to question his decision to move forward, and put a cloud of uncertainty over a race in a state that flipped Biden back into the Democratic column by just over 80,000 votes in the year 2020.
But unlike many other hotly contested states and counties, Biden never hesitated to show up in case he was born — and Fetterman never evaded Biden when he did. This included the largest Democratic campaign rally of the session last weekend, as Biden and former President Barack Obama teamed up with Fetterman and Josh Shapiro, the party’s candidate for governor, to conduct one final round in a massive voter turnout in the Democrats’ stronghold. Philadelphia.
One adviser told CNN that Biden left the rally buoyed by the enthusiasm he saw — a personal data point of sorts for a self-proclaimed “moral optimist” who never seemed to fret over the Democratic angst that ran rampant in the final weeks of the campaign.
However, he also didn’t hesitate to make his point about the current stakes—those in which the Republican center of gravity did not move away from Trump in the two years following his electoral defeat.
“This is a defining moment for the nation,” Biden said as he neared the end of his remarks in Philadelphia.
Even as Biden made phone calls congratulating the 35 victorious Democrats, he remained behind closed doors. A White House official said his calls concluded for the night, and while there was nothing officially scheduled, the first opportunity to hear Biden’s views will likely come later Wednesday.
Finally, the Fetterman race was called shortly after 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning. Soon, a White House official passed a simple message that was inaccurate in Biden’s frequent gesture to Pennsylvania visits as other Democrats kept him at a distance.
“The president had a wonderful time with the senator-elect on Saturday,” the official said.
Biden’s electoral future will soon move to center stage, as he enters the critical period when he will make a final decision about seeking re-election. Biden’s opponent for 2020, Trump, has already taken steps toward launching his campaign.
But for all the uncertainty, Biden’s advisers ended the night and asserted that the sweeping red wave — and the implicit accusation of their administration that they fought to break away from — did not materialize.
For his part, Biden decided to reach out to another Democrat before ending his night: he texted Fetterman, congratulating him on his victory.