WASHINGTON — Democrats are expected to retain control of the House of Representatives but optimistic projections that they would be expanding their already robust margin are falling short.
Instead, Republicans have enjoyed some bragging rights, unseating freshmen incumbents in South Florida, New Mexico and South Carolina, while successfully defending what looked to be several vulnerable seats in Texas and elsewhere. And early Wednesday, the GOP claimed its biggest prize by knocking off 15-term Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
It’s been a stark contrast to 2018, when Democrats picked up key seats — many in suburban areas — that helped flip the House from Republican control to a Democratic majority. Not all the news was bad, as Democrats were expected to pick up a handful of GOP seats, including two in North Carolina districts that were redistricted under court order.
Voters also elected the youngest ever member to Congress as well as a far-right Republican with ties to the baseless QAnon conspiracy.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier on Tuesday they would not only defend the gains Democrats made in 2018, but predicted the party could flip districts previously thought to be in safe Republican territory.
“I think we are going to see some wins in these deep red districts that over time you’re going to see going from ruby red to purple to even blue,” Bustos said, adding that “this is an Election Day that may end up looking like an Election Week.”
Democrats hold a 232-to-197 majority over Republicans (with five vacancies). While Republicans are targeting freshman Democrats who were elected during the 2018 midterms and aiming to add some diversity into their ranks, Democrats are similarly attempting to flip key Republican strongholds, as the election remains close at the top of the ticket in the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Americans likely won’t know the results of many races, including who won the presidential contest, on Election Night due to the influx of absentee and mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of the races and trends we’re watching as polls close and results start to pour in:
Key races that have been called
A pair of freshman Florida Democrats representing Miami-Dade County narrowly lost their seats Tuesday two years after winning GOP seats in South Florida.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ousted a GOP incumbent two years ago, found herself on the losing end Tuesday night in Florida’s 26th Congressional District. And Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala, who won an open seat in 2018 that had been held by a Republican, lost in a rematch in Florida’s 27th Congressional District to the Republican she beat two years ago.
Broadcast journalist María Elvira Salazar unseated Shalala while Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez defeated Mucarsel-Powell in an area that has become one of swingiest areas of Florida.
Trump’s message that electing Democrats would lead to socialism seemed to resonate in this South Florida district where Cuban Americans, many who fled Fidel Castro’s authoritarian regime, flocked to Trump. Both Salazar and Gimenez are Cuban American.
“Today was a rejection of extremism. Today was a rejection of partisanship. Today was a rejection of socialism and the evils of socialism and communism,” Gimenez said at a victory party Tuesday night. “This country needs to start to work together because we have threats from outside and inside and for us to keep fighting, it makes no sense whatsoever.”
New York’s 16th Congressional District: Progressive Jamaal Bowman has won the race for New York’s 16th Congressional District, adding a new voice to the progressive wing of the party in the 117th Congress.
During the primary election, Bowman stunned the nation by defeating Rep. Eliot Engel, a powerful House committee chair who was a 16-term Democratic incumbent. Bowman’s win over Engle came amid a national reckoning of systemic racism and nationwide protests calling for racial justice.
Bowman’s primary win also offered progressives a measure of solace as it came around the time Sen. Bernie Sanders lost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District: Madison Cawthorn, the young conservative who pulled off an upset in the race for Mark Meadows’ House seat in June, won his race against Democrat Moe Davis, becoming the youngest member ever elected to Congress at 25.
Cawthorn, who was in a car accident as a teenager that left him paralyzed from the waist down, has said his injury inspired him to enter politics. Cawthorn, once he is sworn into office in January, will become the youngest member in Congress, a title currently held by Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“The days of AOC and the far left misleading the next generation of Americans are numbered. Tonight, the voters of western North Carolina chose to stand for freedom and a new generation of leadership in Washington,” Cawthorn said after declaring victory Tuesday evening.
Cawthorn’s primary win was considered an upset, because Trump and Meadows endorsed another candidate. The seat became open after Meadows left to become Trump’s chief of staff.
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Georgia’s 14th Congressional District: Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right GOP candidate with ties to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, won in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District.
That district has been solidly Republican, and is currently held by Republican Rep. Tom Graves, who announced last year that he would not seek reelection.
Greene beat neurosurgeon John Cowan in the primary runoff despite several GOP officials denouncing her. Greene made headlines during her campaign for her incendiary Islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments, as well as for claims that Black people aren’t discriminated against.
South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District: Democrats suffered another loss as freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham was defeated by Republican challenger Nancy Mace in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
Cunningham was one of the dozens of Democrats in 2018 who flipped Republican-held districts to help liberals take control of the House. His seat wasn’t expected to flip to Republican control and was rated as leaning Democratic by the Cook Political Report.
Before Cunningham, the district was a Republican stronghold that the party held for every election since 1981. Trump also won the district in 2016 by about 13 points.
New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District: Democratic Incumbent Xochitl Torres Small lost her rematch to Republican Yvette Herrell.
Two years ago, the Democrat won the seat vacated by incumbent Republican Steve Pearce by beating Herrell in one of the nation’s closes congressional races. This time, Herrell won the sprawling district that borders Mexico, and by a convincing margin.
The Republican won 54% to 46%, expanding the number of Republican women on Capitol Hill.
Key House districts that flipped in 2018 among those to watch Tuesday
New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Jeff Van Drew has arguably one of the most fascinating House races of this cycle. A freshman, the now-Republican representing New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District is in a tight race against Democrat Amy Kennedy, whose family is a political dynasty.
Van Drew gained widespread notoriety after switching from the Democratic party to join Republicans during Trump’s impeachment trial. The move was jarring given Van Drew helped flip the district, which Trump won by nearly 5 points, over to Democrats.
His switch garnered praise from Trump, who invited him to the White House where Van Drew promised Trump his “undying support.”
The story behind Van Drew’s decision:Here’s how partisan wrath over Trump’s impeachment changed the future of 2 lawmakers
Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District: Rep. Collin Peterson, who represented his rural Minnesota district for three decades, lost a tough bid for reelection Tuesday, even as Joe Biden won the state against Donald Trump.
The 15-term Democrat who chaired the House Agriculture Committee, lost his 7th Congressional District seat to former =Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who was aided by outside spending from GOP donors.
With nearly 92% of the vote counted, Fischbach was leading comfortably with 54% to 40% for Peterson.
Peterson had touted his work on the farm bill and trade deals that helped his agrarian district. But he was also fighting to keep a district that Trump won by more than 30 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Peterson chairs the House Agriculture Committee, an important panel for his agriculturally rich district, but it’s unclear whether he will be able to fend off Fischbach, the state’s former lieutenant governor.
California’s 21st Congressional District: Rep. TJ Cox, the freshman Democrat elected to California’s 21st Congressional District, is set for a rematch against Republican David Valadao.
The pair went head-to-head in 2018 and Cox came out on top, defeating Valadao by 862 votes. Cox will be facing Valadao in the aftermath of multiple scandals over business dealings and unpaid federal taxes.
The district was won by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by double-digit margins.
New York’s 11th Congressional District: Rep. Max Rose is facing a bitter race against Republican Nicole Malliotakis — a campaign that has included an assortment of cursing, accusations of lying and name dropping of New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, who is unpopular in the district.
Rose, a freshman Democrat who represents New York’s 11th Congressional District, is neck-and-neck with Malliotakis, a state Assemblywoman, in an area Trump won by 10 points.
New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, the freshman Democrat representing New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, is in a close race against Republican Yvette Herrell.
Torres Small, one of many moderates facing tough re-election prospects, faced Herrell in 2018 and came out on top by about 2 percent points.
The district, which covers a huge swath of land and includes about 600,000 residents, sits along the U.S.-Mexico border and was won by Trump in 2016 by 10 points.
Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District: Freshman Rep. Kendra Horn has conceded Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District race to Republican challenger Stephanie Bice. The race has not been officially called by AP.
Horn, a prominent moderate, helped Democrats take control of the district for the first time in nearly 50 years in an area that Trump won by about 13 points. She is the latest of a group of freshman Democrats to lose reelection for a second term.
Texas districts that could go blue: A number of Republican-held districts are up for grabs this cycle after incumbents announced they would retire, potentially allowing Democrats to pick up additional seats in Texas — which some analysts are forecasting could potentially shift to Democratic control.
Among the Texas districts up for grabs are the 23rd Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Will Hurd, a key moderate who is retiring. The district, which sits near the U.S.-Mexico border, was won by Hillary Clinton by four points in 2016. Republican Tony Gonzalez is hoping to keep conservative control of the district by fending off Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost to Hurd in 2018. This race has been rated as leaning Democratic by The Cook Political Report.
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Another district that could be a potential pickup for Democrats: Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring from Texas’ 24th Congressional District and Democrat Candace Valenzuela is aiming to best Republican Beth Van Duyne. This race has been rated as leaning Democratic by The Cook Political Report.
In Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, Republican Troy Nehls kept the Houston suburban district in the GOP’s hands, fending off Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni after Rep. Pete Olsen announce he was retiring. Kulkarni came within reach of beating Olsen in 2018.
One other race has gotten a lot of attention: Rep. Chip Roy’s campaign to keep the 21st Congressional District in the GOP’s hands. He fended off Democrat and former state Sen. Wendy Davis in the district, which spans from Austin to San Antonio.
More women, people of color could ascend to Congress
The 2018 midterms sent a historic number of women and minorities to the House. The more than 100 women who served in the 116th Congress marked the largest number of women serving in the House in U.S. history, making up nearly a quarter of its membership.
Nearly all of those gains were made by Democrats.
Republicans this cycle have aimed to break their own records. More than 200 GOP women filed to run this election and about 100 will face off against a Democratic challengers after winning primaries, a huge jump from the 52 female candidates Republicans had in the 2018 cycle.
And as of early Wednesday, the ranks of GOP female House members grew by at least three: Salazar in Florida, Herrell in New Mexico and Mace in South Carolina.
But while the number of women on the ticket marked big strides, Republicans aren’t expected to see many gains in the House due, in part due to Trump’s own struggling poll numbers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions that boiled over this summer.
House membership is also overwhelmingly white, and the Republican conference was set to lose its sole Black member with the retirement of Rep. Will Hurd in Texas.
As results poured in Tuesday evening, Byron Donalds won Florida’s 19th Congressional District — assuring that at least one Black Republican will serve in House in the 117th Congress. He will replace Rep. Francis Rooney, a key retiring moderate who sometimes sparred with Trump.
Suburban surprises could be on tap again after shifts in 2016
The suburbs have historically leaned Republican. But after the 2018 midterms, Democrats are solidifying the gains they made in some suburban districts, and even expected to pick up some new seats in similar areas.
These races could continue a trend and might spell good news for Democrats not only in this election, but future ones if they continue to expand the map in the suburbs.
For example, Democrat Candace Valenzuela is one Democrat that could likely flip a Republican the Republican seat in Texas’ 24th Congressional District located in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Democrat Sri Kulkarni in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, located in the suburbs of Houston, is also locked in a close battle where he could flip that typically Republican seat. Those are just two of possibly five seats that Democrats can pick up in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston.
In the midwest, GOP incumbent Rep. Don Bacon is locked in a tight battle with Democrat Kara Eastman. And Democrats are hoping they can pick up that seat.
Even in the typically Republican stronghold of Arkansas, Democrats are hoping to flip the state’s suburban 2nd Congressional District. Republican Rep. French Hill, the incumbent, is in a tight battle with Democrat state senator Joyce Elliott. Cook Political Report on Monday changed their rating of the race from “Lean Republican” to “toss up,” meaning it could go for either candidate.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu