In an election that came down to which party turned off voters the least, it was another bad national showing for the G.O.P.
A surprisingly nuanced verdict in the midterm elections has delivered at least one important conclusion about the state of the national mood: In battleground states and swing districts across the country, voters voiced their support for moderation.
That happened in Nevada’s Senate race, where Catherine Cortez Masto, an unassuming incumbent Democrat occupying one of the party’s most endangered seats, overcame voters’ economic fears and won re-election, highlighting her Republican opponent’s embrace of Donald J. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and his denigration of abortion rights.
It happened in Pennsylvania, where Josh Shapiro, facing the far-right Doug Mastriano, won the governor’s office in the biggest landslide for a non-incumbent in the state since 1946.
And it happened on Sunday, when a liberal Democrat in Oregon who beat a veteran centrist House Democrat in the primary, Representative Kurt Schrader, lost the seat for her party to the G.O.P., a stinging blow to the Democrats’ chances of holding their majority.
In contests up and down the ballot, Republicans betting on a red wave instead received a sweeping rebuke from Americans who, for all the qualms polls show they have about Democratic governance, made clear they believe that the G.O.P. has become unacceptably extreme.
On a smaller scale, a similar dynamic could be discerned on the left: After Democratic primary voters chose more progressive nominees over moderates in a handful of House races including in Oregon, Texas and California, those left-leaning candidates were defeated or are at risk of losing seats that could have helped preserve a narrow Democratic majority.
But the 2022 midterm was the third straight federal election in which the march of many Republican candidates into a morass of conspiracy theories and far-right policy positions had grave electoral consequences for the G.O.P.
“The message on Tuesday was the average person is done voting for extremism,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat who ran for re-election in a Republican-leaning district in central Michigan on an explicitly centrist message, with the backing of a Republican, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming. “They’re done with voting for people who just want to blow up the system.”
Republicans not only collapsed in governor’s races from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, but also lost House races they had targeted in those states, reflecting the political dangers of top-of-the-ticket candidates perceived as extreme or unserious, party strategists said.
And while Republicans may still capture the House, their efforts to win back the districts that powered the 2018 Democratic takeover of the chamber fell short in many races, while Democrats flipped a Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
Understand the Outcomes of the 2022 Midterm Elections
“Many Republicans know democracy’s at risk and that these extreme candidates are the reason,” said Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Democrats had their share of missed opportunities, including in cases where their primary voters had elevated candidates from the liberal wing of their party instead of from the center.
In a competitive district outside Portland, Ore., Democratic primary voters in May turned out Mr. Schrader, a seven-term moderate incumbent, in favor of a considerably more liberal candidate, Jamie McLeod-Skinner. On Sunday, The Associated Press called the race for the Republican, Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
“We’re more divided than ever,” Mr. Schrader said in an interview on Sunday evening. “People are reverting to their tribal allegiances that are getting further right and further left. It’s not healthy for the country.”
In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, along the border with Mexico, Democrats far exceeded expectations. But there, too, ideology played its part. Representative Henry Cuellar, a veteran conservative Democrat, beat back a spirited primary challenge from his left, then trounced his Republican opponent by 13 percentage points. In the district next door, Michelle Vallejo, an ardent progressive, beat a more moderate candidate in the Democratic primary by roughly 30 votes, then lost to a Republican, Monica De La Cruz, on Tuesday by 8.5 points.
And in northern Los Angeles County, the Democratic veterans group VoteVets, hoping to finally defeat Representative Mike Garcia, a Republican, in a strongly Democratic district, thought it had a dream candidate in John Quaye Quartey, the son of a Ghanaian immigrant who went to the Naval Academy to play football and had a 20-year career as a naval intelligence officer and military diplomat. Instead, Democratic Party leaders and primary voters fell in behind the more liberal Christy Smith, who had already lost to Mr. Garcia twice. She trails Mr. Garcia again.
“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.
Mr. Masters lost to Mr. Kelly on Friday.
Representative Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and was ousted by a Trump-backed candidate in the primary — who then lost on Tuesday — pointed to concerns around Republican rhetoric, including the bizarre claim, given credence by some Republican candidates, that children were going beyond gender and identifying as cats who needed litter boxes in classrooms.
“Parents want their kids to be in school, they want their children to do well. In that, Republicans had a winning message,” Mr. Meijer said. “But when that Republican message then continues to veer into urban legends of litter boxes for children who identify as ‘furries,’ people start to doubt whether or not that person lives in the real world.”
Republicans remain bullish on their chances of retaking the House, even if by a narrower margin than many had predicted.
“House Republicans are pleased with the inroads we made in New York, the tough seats we held in California and the fact that we went from holding one seat in Iowa to holding all four seats in just two cycles,” Mike Berg, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign arm, said in a statement, as California results continued to be counted.
But in most battlegrounds, the vaunted red wave failed to materialize.
In Nevada, Democrats pounded the Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt for saying the Roe v. Wade decision that protected federal abortion rights was “a joke.”
“Abortion certainly was a factor in Nevada, but so was the economy,” said Representative Dina Titus, a Democrat who won a tough re-election battle in her Las Vegas-area district. “We talked a lot in all our races about the things that we had done over the last two years to bring this economy back.”
“The lack of quality candidates at the top of the ticket, both Mastriano and Oz, severely hurt down-ballot candidates,” said Matt Brouillette, the head of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, a conservative group whose political arm attacked Mr. Shapiro for part of the race.
Mr. Shapiro, who ran as a relative moderate with the backing of law enforcement groups, won by 14 percentage points in a state Mr. Biden won by one in 2020. Mr. Fetterman, who faced a Republican spending onslaught and defeated Dr. Oz more narrowly, also outperformed Mr. Biden.
“I wonder when all the Trump backers get tired of losing,” Mr. Brouillette added.
Representatives for Dr. Oz and Mr. Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outpaced her 2018 margin, even though 2022 was a far more difficult political environment for Democrats. She said Michigan needed a “problem solver, not a culture warrior,” as she ran against Tudor Dixon, a Trump-endorsed Republican who embraced cultural battles.
In North Carolina, Wiley Nickel, a Democrat, beat an ardent Trump backer, Bo Hines, by presenting himself as a local, low-key problem-solver to voters who had grown tired of circus acts.
Republicans, he said, told him, “‘We’re voting for you, Wiley, because we know you, we know you will protect democracy, and sending someone to Washington who’s going to try to overturn the next election is just too far.’”
Ms. Slotkin of Michigan was facing voters in a newly drawn district that leaned more Republican than before, and she saw a political environment supercharged by a referendum on abortion rights. Her Republican opponent, State Senator Tom Barrett, tried to temper his views on abortion and tamped down questions he had earlier raised over the 2020 election.
But Ms. Slotkin tarred him with what she characterized as the extremism of the Republicans running for governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
“He was smart enough to know that extreme views wouldn’t fly in a swing district like ours, but he had a record,” she said in an interview.
Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican strategist who consulted for Mr. Barrett, acknowledged Republican problems with independent voters broadly.
“The Dobbs decision, you take the Jan. 6 stuff, you take the election denialism and wrap it all together, it’s not a good look for us,” he said, adding that he has long believed “we won’t win because we’re the prettier of the two parties, we’re going to win because we are the less ugly of the two parties. And I guess we were, for independent voters, the uglier of the two.”
Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.