The long-awaited midterm elections are over. For the past six months the news media coverage was saturated with analyses of candidates and predictions of what the 116th Congress would look like. The media was, however, cautious about making bold statements, and for good reason. These midterms saw many races that were extremely close, with some of them being too close to call even after a couple of days and the Florida Senate and Governor’s race headed for recount. With the Democrats taking over the House and the Republicans not only keeping but increasing their majority in the Senate, the first observation is that American politics remains divided, and that this division has an interesting manifestation between the local and national sphere.
These elections were, therefore, like no other. By that I do not just mean the historically high voter turnout—at 47 percent, the highest since 1966—but also that these elections brought some new candidates that will diversify the US Congress and American politics. You have more women than ever elected into Congress, with Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland being the first Native American congresswomen and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar being the first Muslim congresswomen. These historical ‘firsts’ are far from meaning that the tensions and polarization in American society are now being resolved; however, they do serve as an important step to remedy the current situation.
The purpose of this piece, however, is not to give another overview of what happened. The news media has provided more than enough of that. Being in Washington, DC, during the midterms is an interesting experience. Considered as the hub of national and even global politics, during the midterms the focus shifts from Capitol Hill to the states and districts. The Congress buildings might have been empty, but Washington, DC, was in full election mode, with watch parties seemingly on every corner.
I had the opportunity to attend the official watch party of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) with the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján. This was a once-in-as-lifetime opportunity for me to experience American politics at its most dramatic. The atmosphere resembled a football game or hockey match. Every time a Democrat won a house seat the crowd cheered like the home team scored a goal.
Being in the midst of all this, these elections were more than just a “referendum on President Trump”. In terms of representation there are the historical “firsts” mentioned above, but even more important they serve as symbols of the resurgence of the American electorate and civic engagement. It should be important to keep talking about and building upon this remarkable momentum of political participation.