“It’s super clear: Voters want mainstream and they do not want extreme,” said Matt Bennett, the co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization. “Across the board, they went with the candidate who, fairly or unfairly, was seen as the champion of moderation.”
Underscoring that message, Adam Frisch, an independent-turned-Democrat from Aspen, Colo., squeaked by a much more liberal Democrat, Sol Sandoval, by 290 votes to challenge Representative Lauren Boebert, one of the most flamboyant torchbearers of Trumpism. Mr. Frisch is now within range of pulling off the biggest upset of the campaign after running as a pro-business, pro-energy production, “pro-normal party” moderate.
“The pro-normal party had legs all across the country,” Mr. Frisch said in an interview on Sunday. “People really want their representatives to play between the 30-yard lines,” not on the extremes.
Certainly, plenty of candidates with ties to the left or right prevailed. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis flipped Miami-Dade County, which had not voted for a Republican candidate for governor in two decades, while Gov. Brian Kemp easily won re-election in Georgia. Neither man is closely tied to Mr. Trump — Mr. DeSantis is often mentioned as the leading alternative for the Republican presidential nomination — but both are staunch conservatives. And John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat who beat Mehmet Oz for a Senate seat, staked out a number of middle-of-the-road positions during the campaign, but as a 2016 supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, he has long had credibility on the left.
For months before the 2022 midterm elections, Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, would ask her focus groups how they felt the nation was doing. Terribly, they’d say, citing the lingering pandemic, crime and the worst inflation rate in 40 years.
“Then I’d say, ‘Who are you going to vote for, Mark Kelly or Blake Masters?’” she said, referring to the Democratic and Republican Senate candidates in Arizona. “And they’d say, ‘Oh, Blake Masters is insane.’”
The issue, she said, was extremism, a catchall word that encompassed the Republican drive to ban abortions, violence in American politics, the denial of election results and what felt to some voters — in Arizona and elsewhere — like a drift away from fundamental rights and democracy itself. “I just think they didn’t like these candidates,” she said.