WASHINGTON – Democrats pushed Wednesday to extend their control of the House for two more years, but with a potentially reduced majority, as they lost at least six incumbents and failed to oust Republican lawmakers in early returns .
At 4 a.m. EST, the Democrats’ only gains were two North Carolina seats vacated by GOP incumbents after a court-ordered remap made the districts more democratic. While they seemed likely to retain control of the House, their performance was an unexpected disappointment for the party, which was hoping for modest gains of perhaps 15 seats.
After decades of trying, Republicans defeated 15-term Representative Collin Peterson from a rural Minnesota district who backed President Donald Trump in 2016 by 31 percentage points, Trump’s biggest margin in any district controlled by Democrats. Peterson, who chairs the House agriculture committee, has opposed Trump’s impeachment and is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. He was defeated by Republican Michelle Fischbach, the former lieutenant governor.
Freshman Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health to President Bill Clinton, in adjacent districts of South Florida, where Trump appeared to consolidate support from Cuban voters, also lost. The others defeated were Democratic freshmen Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, who scored surprising victories in 2018 in districts Trump won decisively. in 2016.
The fight for the seat of Torres Small cost around $ 35 million, making it one of the most expensive races in the country, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. She was defeated by Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator.
Democrats were also disappointed in the Senate, where they harbored hopes of winning a majority. Democrat Joe Biden’s Trump challenge has remained too close to call.
Before the votes were counted, members of both parties said the GOP would have the chance to limit democratic gains to a modest single digit. Democrats control House 232-197, with five open seats and one independent. It takes 218 seats to control the chamber.
A smaller Democratic majority would make it harder for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to unite her lawmakers as a handful of progressive freshmen arrive for the new Congress.
By retaining control of the House, Democrats would mark only the second time in a quarter of a century that they have led the chamber for two consecutive two-year congresses. The first period lasted from 2007 to 2010, when Pelosi was serving his first four years in office.
“Our goal in this race was to win so that we can protect the Affordable Care Act and we can crush the virus,” Pelosi told reporters, citing former President Barack Obama’s health care law. . She said the Democrats won a majority in the House, which seemed very likely but had not been officially declared by the Associated Press.
Democrats’ hopes of protecting their majority and even expanding it rested on public anxiety about the pandemic, Trump’s alienation of suburban voters, and a vast fundraising advantage. But these benefits did not take them as far as they had hoped.
With the GOP’s expectations to capture the House almost nonexistent before election day, Republicans were happy with the results.
“House Republicans have exceeded all expectations,” said Dan Conston, who heads the Congressional Leadership Fund, a committee aligned with House GOP leaders that provides millions to Republican candidates.
Democrats lost a Hispanic-majority district in West Texas they expected to win when the GOP incumbent retired. And they lost a series of what seemed like coin races, failing to defeat GOP holders in Cincinnati, countryside Illinois, central Virginia, and suburbs of St. Louis and from Texas.
In a neighborhood between Austin and San Antonio, new GOP rep Chip Roy has stood up to a challenge from Democrat Wendy Davis. Davis rose to prominence as a state lawmaker by leading a filibuster in 2013 against an anti-abortion bill, then lost a gubernatorial race the following year. The Conservative Club for Growth has made her its biggest target, spending more than $ 6 million against it this year.
As if symbolically, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who heads the Congressional Democratic campaign committee, was in her own close race in a tightly divided district that she won by 24 percentage points in 2018.
Some endangered Democratic freshmen like Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Lucy McBath of Georgia, and Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim of New Jersey held on.
But the party did not achieve any victory in distant races which it hoped would strengthen their majority. Republicans have retained such districts in central North Carolina; Montana; Omaha, Nebraska; and around Little Rock, Arkansas.
As Wednesday morning wore on, other hotly contested races remained undecided in Indiana and Virginia.
Dozens of incumbents from the two parties from the safe districts were easily re-elected. These included Democratic progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City and the No.3 House leaders of both parties, Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina and Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
New York-area Democrats Jamaal Bowman, an Ocasio-Cortez-backed progressive, and Ritchie Torres, who will be the first openly gay Hispanic in Congress, will also be coming to Washington.
In a remarkable but unsurprising result, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who espoused baseless QAnon conspiracy theories, won a vacant seat in Northwest Georgia. Trump called Greene a “future Republican star.” QAnon claims Trump is quietly leading a battle against pedophiles in government.
The coronavirus pandemic and the battered economy, which voters ranked as top concerns, were hanging over contests, according to AP VoteCast, a national voter survey. The virus has killed 232,000 people in the United States and cases are increasing in almost every state, while millions of people have lost their jobs.
Supporting Democrats has been an asset from coast to coast in campaign fundraising, including for the 29 District Democrats Trump won in 2016 that Republicans were targeting. At the start of Wednesday, Peterson, Cunningham and Torres Small were the only Democrats to have lost.
Almost all Democratic incumbents in potentially vulnerable districts were spending more than their GOP opponents, often by large margins, according to an AP analysis of Federal Election Commission campaign reports.
As in 2018, when they took control of the House, Democratic ads have focused on promises to make health care more accessible, preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions, and protect voters from Republicans for end these requirements. Many Republicans say they want to dismantle Obama’s healthcare law while retaining coverage for pre-existing conditions, but they haven’t come up with a detailed proposal to do so.
The pandemic has only amplified Democrats’ attention to health care. Trump’s repeated false claims downplaying the severity of the virus have also given Democrats political fodder.
AP VoteCast is a national survey of more than 127,000 voters and non-voters for the Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Check out AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.