With votes still to count in a handful of Senate and House races that will determine party control of both chambers, Tuesday’s midterm elections results were a far from cry from the Republican “red wave” pundits were predicting. With the results amplifying the divide throughout our country, expect gridlock to continue in our nation’s capital. Yet, on the issue of America’s role in the world – while we certainly see challenges – the 118th Congress will kickoff full of champions and friends on both sides of the aisle.
For the USGLC, this election was never about a blue or a red “wave”, but rather a dedicated effort to engage candidates on how global stability impacts America’s stability. Since 2008, the USGLC has led a nationwide education initiative to meet with candidates running for federal office to talk about the importance of America’s global leadership and the impact of global issues here at home.
Our SmartVote 2022 candidate engagement campaign was no exception, and USGLC is proud to have galvanized our network of local business, veteran, faith, and community leaders from across the country. These leaders met face-to-face with more than 360 candidates and campaigns for the House and Senate – an unprecedented volume of engagement – to discuss how diplomacy and development impacts America’s economic and security interests.
Our team and community leaders held many terrific meetings, with strong champions returning to Capitol Hill and many new friends who will be joining them in January. In fact, our coalition will welcome our first-ever United States Senator, who previously served on a USGLC State Advisory Committee.
Read on for our post-election report based on conversations with candidates and their teams along with our analysis of what the election results mean for U.S. diplomacy and global development issues.
As Washington prepares for a new and likely divided government, here are our top election takeaways when it comes to America’s global leadership:
While global disruptions – from energy and supply chain issues to the food and fertilizer crisis – impacted every American family’s budget throughout this year’s election season, voters’ focus at the ballot box was clearly on domestic issues.
EXIT POLLS: As Americans reeled from rising inflation and high prices from the gas pump to the grocery store, national exit polls made it clear that voters prioritized inflation along with the issue of abortion and concerns about democracy. Not surprisingly, much less attention and debate time was spent on foreign policy and how global instability is impacting Americans at home.
GLOBAL CONNECTION: At the same time, mid-cycle polling showed that Americans still connect global and domestic issues. In an April poll, even before food prices surged higher, voters pointed to global factors as three of the top five reasons for increasing food costs – including supply chain disruptions, COVID-19, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Expect these issues to impact lawmakers when they return to governing.
Despite the prioritization of the domestic agenda, one significant exception is that both candidates and voters clearly see a global threat posed by China and Russia.
CHINA FOCUS: Reflecting one area of bipartisan consensus on the campaign trail, Republican and Democratic candidates continued to tap into voters’ attitudes towards the global competition with China.
RUSSIA THREATS: From late February through the summer months, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a high profile and unifying issue on the campaign trail for candidates on both sides of the aisle.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: By the fall, some Republican fissures began to emerge with populist voices starting to question the amount of U.S. support to Ukraine, particularly as domestic economic pressures increased. Republican leadership in the House and Senate offered differing perspectives in the final weeks of the election:
3. Returning champions central for bolstering internationalist leadership in Congress.
While chamber control is still being determined, there are hundreds of champions and friends – on both sides of the aisle – who will return or continue on Capitol Hill in critical appropriations and foreign policy leadership posts.
TOP COMMITTEEE CHAMPIONS RETURN: In the upper chamber, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Jim Risch (R-ID) take the mantle in critical committee leadership roles. On the House side, Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) all return to Capitol Hill.
FRONTLINE NATIONAL SECURITY VOICES: High profile bipartisan For Country Caucus leaders – like Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Mike Waltz (R-FL), and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) – will also return to Capitol Hill alongside national security experts, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and others.
4. Future champions and friends are heading to Congress, including veterans and leaders from USGLC’s state networks.
In addition to our champions and friends returning, there will be many new friends heading to Congress come January. In our more than 360 briefings, we met dozens and dozens of candidates from both parties who shared their strong interest in and commitment to the importance of America’s global leadership and the role of diplomacy and development. Some came with powerful personal stories and experience – such as veterans, business leaders, and those who participated in missionary work.
NEW TO FOREIGN POLICY: While a number of candidates running in the open race seats showed up to USGLC meetings with limited foreign policy background, candidates were open to learning and discussing foreign policy and the global ties to their state.
USGLC LEADERS: Our coalition will see more USGLC members who once served on our State Advisory Committees join the ranks of Congress, including the first USGLC committee member to be elected to the U.S. Senate. All of these newly-elected Members are poised to be emerging leaders on diplomacy and development as they arrive on Capitol Hill:
5. The populist winds and voices are still a relevant issue.
The populism that has animated some voters and candidates in both parties continued in 2022. On the Republican side, many skeptics of America’s role in the world lost their races, but some will still show up on Capitol Hill and need further engagement and education.
LEADERS RETIRING: As an example of the transitions now underway, several important Republican champions – who have led on critical global development, global health, and diplomacy issues – will be leaving big shoes to fill in the U.S. Senate at the end of the 117th Congress. At present, the newly elected senators filling their seats do not yet match the same level of commitment and support as their predecessor – and some could bring new challenges to the issues.
All three of these new senators have shown interest in meeting and engaging with USGLC leaders after the election – along with other freshmen who are soon headed to Capitol Hill. For more on what all the newly-elected senators have said on diplomacy and development, see USGLC’s incoming senator profiles later in this report.
INTERNATIONALISTS ON THE TRAIL: Partnering up to elevate critical national security issues on the campaign trail, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Trump Administration State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus traveled the country in the final days of the election hosting candidate forums from Arizona to Florida to North Carolina to Pennsylvania. This important momentum ahead of election day bodes well for the coming Congress and how this new freshman class engages on the issues – and how many ultimately support diplomacy and development.
PROGRESSIVE LETTER: On the Democratic side – in the days leading up to the election – House Progressives released a letter urging the President to engage in direct talks with Russia, potentially sidelining Ukraine, to press for a “realistic framework for a ceasefire.” Some interpreted the move as a weakening of support for Ukraine and the backlash from within the party was swift with the letter quickly withdrawn.
6. Foreign assistance a non-issue while diplomacy and global development animated some candidates.
To determine whether or not foreign assistance or foreign policy issues were a lightning rod during the campaign, the USGLC analyzed advertising and candidate platforms throughout the election.
CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING: Out of more than 3.2 millions total ad spots on the airwaves in 2022, USGLC’s research team identified only three broadcast ads that criticized a Congressional candidate for their support of aid to Ukraine across all the primary and general election races. No other anti-foreign aid ads directed against individual candidates were identified.
CANDIDATE PLATFORMS: In reviewing the Senate candidate platforms of the 13 most competitive races in the country, the USGLC found that nearly every single major party candidate featured a formal foreign policy or national security plank on their platform, often acknowledging the importance of America’s global leadership or strength, even among candidates from the more ideological wings of their parties.
GLOBAL ISSUES: While not top issues in a domestic-focused election, Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates did stake out positions on core diplomacy and development issues during this midterm election cycle:
7. The world is watching as policymakers leave campaign trail behind to confront critical global agenda.
Covering the front pages of newspapers from the UK to France to Kenya to Singapore, the U.S. election made headlines around the world.
WHEELS UP FOR U.S. POLICYMAKERS: With the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, U.S. policymakers are headed out of the country to the global climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and beyond.
» Read the full report here for more on what the results mean for the 118th Congress, the International Affairs Budget, and details on the new U.S. senators headed to Washington.