U.S. midterms: Why a 'rousing' Democrat performance could offer Canada stability

WATCH: Recapping results from U.S. midterm elections

David Smentek watched his laptop screen through a thick pair of glasses Tuesday night, running through county after county of bright blue dots, dark red dots, and dots of various shades in between.

Sitting at a corner table at Jake’s Tavern on 7th Street in Washington, D.C., as the midterm results rolled in, Smentek — who worked for various Republican causes between 2008 and 2019, including a six-year stint as a legislative director on Capitol Hill — detailed which results were unsurprising, which races would tighten as the Republican vote came in, and which ones were straight-up shockers.

His overall assessment, however, was less granular.

Any Republican who said this was a good night “is blowing smoke up your ass,” Smentek said frankly.

He would later reformulate his assessment to it’s “hard to say this is anything other than a rousing Democratic victory.”

A cold wind had blown through the capital on Tuesday, ending days of unseasonable warmth, and it seemed like you could do worse for a metaphor about the Democrats’ chances heading into the 2022 midterm vote.

Losing control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, still operating under the shadow of former president Donald Trump, was treated by partisans on both sides as a foregone conclusion. The real prize of this election was control of the Senate and, with it, significant power over how the next two years of President Joe Biden’s administration would play out.

Control of the Senate was still up in the air as the sun came up Wednesday morning, with key races in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Nevada too close to call. But the “red wave” called for by Trump failed to materialize — good news for Democrats, and something Republicans will be left to ponder as results continue to trickle in.

While elections played out across 8,800 electoral districts Tuesday, two, in particular, were likely to be on the mind of the Canadian government.

In Michigan, incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was up against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon. Whitmer opposes Enbridge’s Line 5 cross-border pipeline over environmental concerns, and her move to block it has been bogged down in legal proceedings since 2019. Dixon wants to see the pipeline continue operations.

With 85 per cent of polls reporting, Whitmer had 53.3 per cent of the vote and looked to retain the governor’s mansion — and the status-quo on the Line 5 legal challenges.

New York’s governor’s race is also providing a surprising amount of drama — and commanding attention in Ottawa, given the state’s shared border with Ontario and Quebec, as well as its significant cross-border trade.

But Democrat incumbent Kathy Hochul held on against Republican Lee Zeldin, despite Zeldin’s deep-pocketed backers.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Canadian government can work with whichever candidates the American people choose.

“We have worked through very different configurations of administrations in the past. … The friendship and the solidity of the relationship between Canada and the United States will continue regardless of whatever happens in the midterms,” Trudeau said at a press conference in New Brunswick.

Most registered voters of either major U.S. political party see the 2022 midterm election as having a significant impact on the country, according to an AP-NORC poll. (AP Digital Embed)

Most registered voters of either major U.S. political party see the 2022 midterm election as having a significant impact on the country, according to an AP-NORC poll. (AP Digital Embed)

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After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Trudeau re-tooled his cabinet to focus on that relationship — tapping Chrystia Freeland, now the deputy prime minister, to stickhandle Trump’s promised renegotiation of NAFTA.

But the Canadian government also launched a full-court blitz of ministerial visits, building relationships not only between Trudeau’s team and Trump’s associates, but within congress and at the state level.

If the midterm trends seen Tuesday and into Wednesday morning hold, Canadian officials may not have to mount as dramatic a campaign. With a Republican congress to constrain Biden’s agenda, from a Canadian perspective it looks like two years of relative stability with the country’s largest trading partner.

Christopher Sands, an expert on U.S.-Canada relations at the Wilson Centre, said it’s possible the next two years will bring legislative gridlock where “nothing really gets done.”

“We could see some of that because President Biden doesn’t have the kind of big electoral mandate or the personality to kind of pull the country together the way a (Barack) Obama or a Ronald Reagan might,” Sands said in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“I think some of the toxic partisanship that we’ve seen in recent years has got to be healed or the country is going to, you know, turn in on itself. … (We’ve got to) pull together because the challenges we’re facing are pretty serious. And you know that Canada faces most of the same ones.”

Another key question for Canadian officials was whether new leadership in Congress would mean changes for Washington’s support for Ukraine, where American-supplied weapons are key in efforts to push back Russia’s invasion.

While there is largely bi-partisan consensus on the other big, shared geopolitical concern — namely, China — Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy said his party would not write a “blank cheque” for Ukraine amid growing domestic pressures like inflation.

It’s not that Canada could step into the vacuum should the U.S. taper back support — Ottawa has committed $650 million to the Ukrainian cause, compared with more than $17.5 billion sent by Washington — but it remains a concern.

“I think the American edges of the body politic are starting to raise questions (about the support), but the middle, I think, is still fine (with it),” Sands said.

“You know, Vladimir Putin could not be a better bad guy. He’s like a Bond villain straight out of the movies.”

With files from Global’s Sean Boynton and the Associated Press.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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