The Dobbs Effect, Explained
Perception, reality, and the last, best hope of liberalism under Biden
There were a lot of places where Republicans were expected to do well under Trump after 2016. New York’s third congressional district was not one of them. A small suburban constituency stretching from northeastern Queens across the north shore of Long Island, NY-03 is principally two things: fairly diverse and very, very wealthy. In fact, it is the wealthiest congressional district in the entire state of New York. While historically swingy, it has consistently leaned Democratic. It supported Andrew Cuomo in all three of his gubernatorial campaigns and only voted for a Republican at the presidential level in one out in the past eight elections. When Trump was first on the ballot in 2016, it shifted to the left compared to 2012. When he was on the ballot a second time in 2020, it shifted to the left again. Nothing about this district implied that it was fertile ground for any Republicans anywhere.
Then, last year, it voted George Anthony Devolder Santos into Congress.
And it wasn’t even close.
In a seat that had voted for Joe Biden by 10 points, Santos won by over seven, making him one of the best-performing Republicans in the entire country. This was despite Santos’ complete lack of political experience, his 13-point loss in a similar district in 2020, and his many personal eccentricities. But even for as well as he did, he wasn’t even the best-performing Republican in the state of New York that year. Hell, he wasn’t even all that exceptional. Other candidates won districts even bluer than Santos, and the Republican candidate for governor outperformed him in his own district. If one just had the results from the Empire State to go by, they would have undoubtedly assumed that 2022 was a historic slaughter for Democrats, rivaling if not surpassing their worst defeats in modern times.
On the other hand, you have Michigan.
Just a few years ago, the Wolverine State was typecast as the home of the GOP’s future: post-industrial, middle income, working class, predominantly white. These voters were supposed to be the exact constituency for the right’s new brand of Trumpist populism. Once this brand became solidified, it was said, legions of working-class voters would switch sides, rendering Michigan and states like it solidly red. While this story was always somewhat fantastical, there did seem to be something of a basis for it. From 2012 to 2016, it swung more to the right than almost any state in the country. From 2016 to 2020, it stayed stagnant, still voting a distance to the right of the nation. So, when Biden entered office, few states looked more liable to swing to the right in the 2022 elections.
But, as in New York, these expectations did not come to pass. Not only did Republicans in Michigan fail to see major gains in 2022, they didn’t see any gains at all. They outright lost ground. At practically every level, Michigan Democrats increased their support compared to past elections. Their candidate for governor, the incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, won her race by more than she did in the blue-wave year of 2018. Their candidates for the House of Representatives increased their shares in both seats and the popular votes. And in the state legislature, Democrats flipped enough seats to win back both chambers, creating their first trifecta since the 1980s. If one only had the results here to go by, they would have assumed that 2022 was an outright blue wave that saw Democrats expand their majorities in both chambers.
What the hell happened?
A Tale of Two Campaigns