Voters in a series of critical battleground states rejected Republican candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state who have spread doubts about the 2020 election, blocking an effort to install allies of former President Donald J. Trump in positions with sweeping authority over voting.
In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Democrats prevailed on Tuesday against Republican opponents who, to varying degrees, had campaigned on overhauling elections in ways that would benefit their party and called into question their commitment to democratic outcomes.
Voters did not abandon Republican election deniers nationwide. Several such candidates for Senate were victorious, including J.D. Vance in Ohio and Representative Ted Budd in North Carolina, and dozens more won races for less prominent offices. Democrats also remain locked in contests against far-right rivals for governor and secretary of state in Arizona and Nevada that were too close to call on Wednesday.
But in several places where power over elections was directly on the ballot — particularly races for secretary of state — Trump-aligned Republicans did not do well. Setting aside Arizona and Nevada, where two leading proponents of 2020 election lies are still in tight races, Democratic candidates for secretary of state beat far-right opponents in Michigan, New Mexico and Minnesota, and were defeated by such a candidate only in deep-red Indiana.
“With their votes, the American people have spoken,” President Biden said on Wednesday afternoon. “They have proven once again that democracy is who we are.”
Though Republicans drastically underperformed their own expectations, the 2022 midterms are far from resolved. The major gains that Republicans promised never materialized, but the party still had a narrow advantage in the House. And Senate control for either party was on a knife’s edge.
Five crucial House seats were awarded on Wednesday to Republicans, including one in Wisconsin to Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL who was at the Capitol when rioters stormed it on Jan. 6, 2021. In New York, Mike Lawler stunned Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, taking one of as many as five seats in deep-blue New York that could flip and go a long way toward delivering Republicans the majority.
In the Senate, a seesaw contest between Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, was officially called for Mr. Johnson on Wednesday morning. And Senator Raphael Warnock’s bid to stave off his Republican rival in Georgia, the former football star Herschel Walker, officially went to a Dec. 6 runoff. Two endangered Democrats, Senators Mark Kelly of Arizona and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, were still watching returns come in. If both prevail, Democrats will hold on to Senate control; if only one does, the Georgia runoff will determine the balance of power.
Meantime, as results rolled in, voters continued to deliver decidedly mixed results. One of the most ardent conspiracy theorists in the cycle, the former news anchor Kari Lake, was in an extremely close contest for Arizona governor. Mark Finchem, an avowed denier of Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona, was narrowly behind in a contest for Arizona secretary of state, a position that administers elections.
Voters’ verdict in several states amounted to a repudiation — at least in part — of some of the most extreme positions on elections that Republicans have adopted since Mr. Trump’s 2020 defeat. In several closely watched races, Republicans who have staked out such ground fared worse on Tuesday night than their G.O.P. counterparts who recognized Mr. Biden’s legitimacy.
Who Will Control Congress? Here’s When We’ll Know.
Much remains uncertain. For the second Election Day in a row, election night ended without a clear winner. Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, takes a look at the state of the races for the House and Senate, and when we might know the outcome:
“I don’t feel like you can have a democracy where it’s like, ‘Either I win or you cheated,’” Logan Patmon, 30, of Detroit said at a weekend rally for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who won on Tuesday. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but when people have that ‘Our winner was cheated,’ that’s like a developing, barely democratic country to me. I don’t like that.”
For more than two years, Democrats, voting rights groups and some moderate Republicans have warned about those who seek to undermine the democratic system. While voters have not made it their top priority, they have demonstrated an awareness of the dangers, with images of the 2021 Capitol riot still flashing on American screens, the House committee investigating the attack broadcasting its findings and new controversies over armed poll watchers and threats to election officials making headlines.
But on Tuesday the resilience of the country’s democracy was often on display. Turnout appeared high. Voting mostly went smoothly, apart from a few glitches that election officials resolved. Both parties put forward increasingly diverse fields of candidates. Meaningful numbers of voters, despite the nation’s polarization, split their tickets. And most candidates — though not all — conceded their losses.
Afterward, Democrats in important races hailed their victories as a blow against threats to America’s electoral system.
“You showed up because you saw that democracy was on the brink of existence and you decided to do a damn thing about it,” Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin told supporters early Wednesday after a concession by his Republican rival, Tim Michels, who had promised that his party would “never lose another election” in the state if he were elected.
To some degree, the results represented a shoring up of the election apparatus in key states before the 2024 presidential election, as Mr. Trump indicates strongly that he will run again. If his chosen candidates had won, their stated positions — including calls to eliminate voting by mail and election machines — would have pre-emptively raised questions about the fairness of the 2024 contest in their states and whether a Democratic victory would be certified.
The Democratic victories in competitive states like Wisconsin will also keep in place a check on Republican-led legislatures that have tried to enact restrictive voting laws and have even moved to give themselves more power over elections.
“The voters stepped up to defend democracy,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United Action, a nonpartisan election group. “In most places, Americans decisively rejected election deniers who wanted power over their votes.”
The nation’s system is still under strain. Republicans have a path to retaking Congress at a time when some in their party have tried to upend the previously routine certification of presidential elections. And the Supreme Court is set to hear a major case that could give state legislatures nearly unchecked authority over federal elections.
Democrats, as a whole, did not run on democracy this year. Their television ad spending on abortion outpaced that of democracy issues by 10 to one. But several of their winning candidates made democracy central to their campaigns.
In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic attorney general, defeated Doug Mastriano, a Republican who marched near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and has pushed for significant new voting restrictions.
In Michigan, Ms. Whitmer beat Tudor Dixon, a Republican backed by Mr. Trump. At a rally on Saturday, Ms. Whitmer boasted that “my vetoes are protecting your voting rights, and I’m damn glad I have that veto pen.”
Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, also won, defeating Kristina Karamo, a Republican who ardently promoted Mr. Trump’s false 2020 claims.
And in Michigan’s race for attorney general, Dana Nessel, the Democratic incumbent, edged past Matthew DePerno, a Republican who was one of the architects of a conspiracy theory involving 2020 election machines in a rural county.
Tuesday’s victories for Democrats helped stymie plans set in motion immediately after the 2020 election, as Republicans aimed to nominate Trump allies to top election posts in battleground states. By the spring, more than a dozen contenders for secretary of state and other positions had assembled on a slate of so-called America First candidates. Six won their primaries, including in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.
The presence on the ballot of multiple allies of Mr. Trump — all whom made false claims of a rigged 2020 election — elevated the stakes. Democrats and outside groups threw millions into the contests, outspending Republicans 18 to one in Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, according to AdImpact, a media tracking firm.
Democratic money also poured into races for state legislatures, which have gained prominence as they steer policy on issues like abortion rights and voting access. Two Democratic super PACs pledged to invest more than $80 million in six states; there was no similar organized effort on the Republican side.
In Michigan, Democrats appeared likely to flip both chambers of the Legislature, potentially bringing the state under unified Democratic control. That apparent success was the result of newly drawn districts by an independent commission that untangled decades of Republican gerrymandering.
While state legislative races are often driven by hyperlocal issues — traffic, roads, garbage pickup — Republicans who focused on the 2020 election fared poorly.
“The candidates obsessed with conspiracy theories and a national narrative were telling the voters in their district, I’m not going to serve you,” said Daniel Squadron, a Democratic former state senator in New York and a founder of the States Project, a Democratic super PAC focused on state legislatures. “Candidates focused on what voters were concerned about — and sometimes that was democracy — were communicating that they were going to spend their time trying to improve lives.”
Despite the Democratic victories, Republicans maintain control of both chambers of the Legislature in Wisconsin and may still hold both chambers in Pennsylvania.
Some of the losing Republicans have also indicated that they will challenge the results; despite losing by more than 13 percentage points, Mr. Mastriano has still not conceded.
Julie Scheibner, a Realtor in Wisconsin, said she was worried about the state of democracy. There was the Capitol riot, which a lot of Americans seemed to dismiss as nothing, she said. Then there was the widespread false belief in a stolen 2020 election.
On Wednesday morning, she was bundled up against the cold in downtown Racine, a grin on her face.
“It’s still there,” she said. “Apparently, we still believe in democracy.”
Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Racine, Wis.