So how exactly did Democrats defy history in these midterms? 

OPINION: Blocking MAGA candidates and abortion were clear drivers, and it’s no surprise that a large portion of pro-choice voters was young and Black women voters who deserve all of their flowers for saving this nation from itself.

Now be honest, raise your hand if you were completely caught off guard by the returns we’re seeing from the midterms. I know I’m not alone on this. Even the most optimistic of optimists couldn’t have predicted that Republicans would not only struggle to win the House of Representatives but that they could end up with potentially only a one or two-seat advantage. From the jump, I felt confident about Democrats holding the U.S. Senate, but with the deck stacked against them in the House, I’m genuinely shook. 

Somehow, some way Democrats defied history with these midterms, and I particularly appreciated President Biden’s appropriately petty tone this week when he essentially asked, what was that y’all were saying about a wave?

Just before election week (yes, I said “week” since it will be another few days or so before we have full results), I said that Democrats’ ultimate goal should be to limit the losses, and they are doing that masterfully — thanks in part to a few key variables: low-quality, election-denying candidates are a drag on Republicans, abortion is actually the No. 1 issue, and young people and Black women are saving us all. 

After Trump handpicked bootleg beta versions of himself to run in statewide races across the country, voters straight up rejected the conspiracy theorists at the top of the ticket. From Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania to Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and Blake Masters in Arizona, these candidates tried to make themselves in Trump’s image and it backfired. And let’s be real, Republicans can only blame Trump and themselves for stacking their slate of candidates with these people who Mitch McConnell aptly described as low-quality candidates

Mastriano and his commitment to rigging future elections essentially sank any chances of Mehmet Oz joining the U.S. Senate — well, that and the fact that voters saw plain as day that Oz wasn’t actually from Pennsylvania. Up in New Hampshire, Bolduc regularly one-upped his own extreme lies and conspiracy theories making Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan’s path to victory resoundingly clear. Out west in Arizona, where we’re still waiting for final results as some counties release daily updates, what is clear is that Blake Masters is running behind Democratic Senator Mark Kelly. Not to mention the Michigan showdown that left extremist Republican candidate, Tudor Dixon, in shambles as Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer won by double digits, and Michigan Democrats earned a trifecta by taking control of the statehouse. 

Voters made it clear that they want absolutely nothing to do with these extremist, statewide candidates who were dead set on doing Trump’s bidding if he lost in the next presidential election. And one additional, delightful externality in this web of voters rejecting extremist election deniers is the fact that Representative Lauren Boebert is fighting for her political life at this very moment. At the time of publication, she’s currently behind and may potentially not be returning to Congress, and I love that for all of us. 

In the lead-up to elections, every political headline was about the economy, inflation, crime rates and how pissed off voters were, but based on exit polls, voters were clearly just as pissed off about abortion rights, if not more, and that was a major boost for Democrats. No one forgot about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. It didn’t slip anyone’s mind that Republicans are pushing total abortion bans at the state and national levels. And even though only five states had abortion ballot initiatives, abortion was on the ballot in every single state. 

A large part of this abortion push is also the result of the multimillion-dollar investment that reproductive organizations and allies, like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List made in this election cycle. These investments were critical in mobilizing pro-choice voters who have been fuming for months about the efforts to take away our rights and access to basic health care. And you better believe that those voters helped limit the losses for Democrats down the ballot. 

Of course, it’s no surprise that a large portion of those pro-choice voters were also young voters and Black women voters who deserve all of their flowers for saving this nation from itself. Gen Z showed up at historic rates and had an outsized impact on these elections. Based on exit polls from CIRCLE at Tufts University, youth voters supported Democrats at or above 70 percent in key states, including Arizona, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that was largely driven by youth voters of color — 89 percent of Black and 67 percent of Latino youth voted for Democratic candidates, while white youth were more evenly split. Plain and simple, young voters not only turned out to vote, but they overwhelmingly supported Democrats when they did. President Biden was sure to thank young voters in his recent remarks about the midterms saying, “I want to thank the young people of this nation who voted in historic numbers, just as they did two years ago. They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and student debt relief.”

And when it comes to the most reliable demographic for Democrats, Black women did what we always do. We showed up, and we showed up decisively as 88 percent of Black women voted for Democrats. Once again, Black women picked up the baton and responded to the compounding threats to our basic rights, our democracy, and to our very existence. And as exhausting as it was, Black women carried this nation forward, again. In return, I want not only praise from Democrats, but I want action and attention on the issues that impact us most. Black women deserve to be politically courted and wooed, especially as we all prepare to shift gears ahead of the 2024 presidential election. 

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast, and an MSNBC Political Analyst.

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