House Democrats went into election night feeling good about expanding their majority, but haven’t had the big gains they hoped for so far, with at least five Democrats in seats President Donald Trump won in 2016 losing and several top-targeted Republican seats remaining in GOP hands, according to CNN projections.
Democrats failed to win one of their top pick-up opportunities in Texas’ 23rd District – one of the four remaining districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that are currently represented by Republicans. Tony Gonzales defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who was running for the seat again after narrowly losing it in 2018, CNN projected Thursday.
Democrats suffered losses in South Florida, where they may have been dragged down by Latino support for President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.
Republican Carlos Giménez, the Cuban American mayor of Miami-Dade County, defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, CNN projected Thursday. Mucarsel-Powell had flipped the district in 2018. As mayor, Giménez has had a high profile during the coronavirus pandemic and was widely regarded as one of the best GOP recruits of the election cycle. In the neighboring 27th District, Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban American journalist, defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala, who was health and human services secretary under President Bill Clinton.
House Democrats were shell-shocked after they watched their party lose seats, meaning they are poised to hold a smaller majority in the next Congress despite the bullish predictions of party bosses in the run-up to the elections.
“If we don’t get our act together, we’re going to get creamed in 2022,” one House Democratic member who asked for anonymity said on Tuesday.
Republicans ousted Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, whose upset victory in Oklahoma’s 5th District was a major surprise in 2018 after Trump won the district in 2016. Democrats had hoped that the suburbs outside of Oklahoma City were moving away from Republicans, and the race remained close until the end with both sides pouring in money. But state Sen. Stephanie Bice returned the seat to GOP hands, a notable win for Republicans who have been hoping to increase the number of women in the GOP conference.
Republicans will gain another woman in the conference with Michelle Fischbach’s defeat of Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee represents the district Trump won by the largest margin of any held by a Democrat. An ideological outlier in his party (he voted against impeachment and opposes abortion rights), Peterson scored narrow victories against an underfunded challenger the past two cycles, but this year faced his strongest challenge in years.
In Iowa, Republican Ashley Hinson defeated Democratic freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District, another seat Trump carried in 2016 but that Democrats had flipped in 2018. Another Republican woman, Yvette Herrell, knocked off freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in a rematch in New Mexico’s 2nd District. Both seats are more rural than many of the suburban areas Democrats flipped in the midterms two years ago.
Republicans also took back South Carolina’s 1st District, the Charleston-area seat that Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham flipped in 2018 after GOP Rep. Mark Sanford – an outspoken Trump critic – lost in his primary earlier that year. While Republicans initially made this Trump district a top target, it had looked less competitive than some others leading up to Election Day. But state Rep. Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, puts it back in the Republican column, scoring another victory for GOP women.
The GOP also held onto a number of seats in districts that Democrats had targeted this year and hoped to flip, even in suburban areas that had looked to be moving away from the President.
Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, who was viewed as an embattled incumbent in the St. Louis suburbs, defeated Democratic challenger Jill Schupp in Missouri’s 2nd District. In Nebraska’s 2nd District, which CNN has projected for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Republican Rep. Don Bacon defeated Democratic opponent Kara Eastman in a rematch that was widely viewed as more competitive than their 2018 matchup. In Arkansas’ 2nd District, Republican Rep. French Hill, who faced a competitive fight for his seat in the Little Rock suburbs, defeated Democrat Joyce Elliott. And in Ohio, GOP Rep. Steve Chabot overcame a well-funded Democratic challenge in the 1st District.
Democrats had high hopes for flipping Indiana’s 5th District, just the kind of suburban area they thought was moving away from Republicans, despite backing the President by nearly 12 points in 2016. But Democrat Christina Hale came up short against Republican Victoria Spartz, who will succeed retiring GOP Rep. Susan Brooks in Congress.
Republican Troy Nehls kept a Texas seat in GOP hands by defeating Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni in the 22nd District, an open seat that Democrats were targeting this year.
When Lauren Boebert, a gun rights advocate who has claimed familiarity with the QAnon conspiracy, scored a surprising upset over GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in a Colorado primary earlier this year, it looked like this seat might be in play for Democrats. But Boebert won the 3rd District, keeping it in GOP hands.
Redistricting had improved Democratic prospects in several North Carolina Districts. Democrats flipped two districts that had been redrawn to be much safer for them, with Deborah Ross winning the 2nd District and Kathy Manning winning the 6th District. But Democrats failed to flip the 8th District, where the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund had spent several million dollars to defend GOP Rep. Richard Hudson against Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice.
Republicans also held on in Virginia’s 5th District, which initially was only expected to flip if Democrats were having a very good night. Still, the race had become increasingly competitive in the fast few weeks, with Democrat Cameron Webb – who would have been the first Black doctor elected as a voting member of Congress – far outraising Republican Bob Good, who had defeated the GOP incumbent at a party convention earlier this year.
After Democrats won the House majority in 2018, Republicans planned to target Democratic lawmakers who flipped districts Trump had won in 2016. And when the House voted to impeach the President, Republicans vowed that moderate Democrats would pay a price at the ballot box. Democrats, however, were confident that the same health care message that carried them to victory in 2018 would resonate in 2020.
With Trump’s poll numbers sagging, amid the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic fallout, the political landscape appeared to favor Democrats in the weeks leading up to November 3, with top Democrats projecting confidence that their party would be in a strong position on election night.
But on the heels of a better-than-expected night, Republicans said the gains they made and the seats they defended were a sign their strategy worked, despite many Democratic candidates outraising their own incumbents and challengers.
“Our message from day one was that the Democrats’ radical socialist agenda is a threat to middle class Americans,” GOP Rep. Tom Emmer, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters Wednesday. “Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle and many of you laughed at us,” he added.
“We were criticized for our rhetoric – at times, I don’t know, maybe some of you think that we were too aggressive,” Emmer continued. Like the President, the NRCC early on tried to brand all Democrats as socialists, but the GOP House campaign committee had also come under criticism, even from some members of their own party, for going too far in mimicking the President’s name-calling, calling New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose, for example, “Little Max Rose.”
“My background, on a hockey rink, told me that, like a campaign, there’s not too aggressive,” Emmer added.
“Clearly the voters have agreed with us. And guess what? We’ve focused on the most diverse class of Republican candidates in congressional history.”
Republicans have touted their efforts to increase diverse recruits this cycle, some of whom have already won according to CNN projections. At least 12 new Republican women will join the conference – an increase from after the 2018 midterms, when just one new GOP woman was part of the freshman class. That means that even with two of the 13 Republican women currently in the House retiring at the end of this year, they’re set to see a net increase in 2021.
Some Democrats told CNN the party needs to fine-tune its message and begin to push a stronger economic agenda – or risk losing the majority in the next elections. And others wanted a shake-up in leadership – namely for Rep. Cheri Bustos, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to be ousted from her job.
Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas said Bustos should step aside after the “bloodbath” the party endured since a number of freshman Democrats may stand to lose their races when the votes are all counted. Bustos is struggling to hang on to her own House seat in Illinois, as CNN has not made a projection in that tight race.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California appears secure in her leadership position despite second-guessing in the ranks, with no challengers yet emerging, lawmakers said.
Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi in the past, told CNN on Wednesday he wouldn’t do it again this time. Asked if he thought there should be any changes in leadership, Ryan declined to comment.
“I got enough scar tissue on those fights to last me a lifetime,” he said.
But Ryan said of the outcome in House races, “I think there’s a lot of people who are disappointed from top to bottom,” while contending that the party should sharpen its economic message in an effort to appeal to working-class voters.
“We have got to live and breathe in that economic space,” Ryan said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.