How Republicans Lost the House But Held the Senate in Mid-Term Elections
-By Jim Owen
A handful of congressional races across the country played significant roles in determining the outcome of the U.S. mid-term elections, in which Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives while Republicans apparently expanded their majority in the Senate.
Three Senate contests were still undecided at last report, but Republicans were almost certain to increase their 51-49 edge in the upper chamber by at least one seat. Though the GOP fell short of attaining a filibuster-proof 60-40 majority, the president will have an easier time winning confirmation of his nominees to the Supreme Court and his appointments to other offices.
The bad news for Republicans is that they will no longer have enough votes in the House to advance their priorities. The new Democratic majority is poised to block any GOP-sponsored bills that come out of the Senate, reject anything Trump proposes, and pass legislation to satisfy liberals.
Democrats in line to chair House committees are already threatening to hold hearings and investigations regarding the alleged scandals of Trump administration officials. They also want to re-open congressional probes of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the Trump campaign’s supposed collusion and the president’s alleged obstruction of justice.
The new House, dominated by liberals, could initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump. However, two-thirds of the GOP-led Senate would have to vote to remove the president from office.
Battle for the Senate
Republican candidates beat four Democratic incumbents to secure their hold of the Senate, even though GOP Sen. Dean Heller lost his bid for re-election in Nevada. Not since 1934has the party not in the White House ousted so many sitting senators.
If GOP candidates pull out victories in the three too-close-to-call races – in Florida, Mississippi and Arizona – the party will have a 54-46 majority. Republicans need only 50 senators to be in control, since the vice president casts the deciding vote to settle ties.
The following were some of the key Senate races in the mid-terms.
An early sign on election night that the Senate was safe from a Democratic takeover was GOP challenger Mike Braun’s triumph over incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly. The businessman closely tied himself to Trump.
Though Donnelly racked up votes in Indianapolis and the northern part of the state, Braun managed to win several swing counties while scoring lopsided victories in conservative areas. The result was a 53 percent to 43 percent win for the Republican.
Braun had to fight to even be on the ballot. In the GOP primary election earlier this year, he defeated two Republican members of the House. Donnelly ran as a moderate, touting his opposition to abortion, but Braun’s message was more appealing to voters in this extremely conservative state.
Republicans exploited Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s vulnerability in this other “red” state, as Josh Hawley won 53.2 percent to 43.7 percent. The state attorney general had to overcome the incumbent’s name recognition and superior fundraising.
The 38-year-old Hawley, who will become the youngest member of the Senate, easily won an 11-candidate primary in August. That earned him the right to run against McCaskill, who is completing her 12thyear in the Senate and 36thyear in public office.
As expected, Hawley lost to the Democrat in urban areas, but outpolled her by large numbers in small towns and rural areas– the same dynamic that propelled Trump to a 19-point victory in the state two years ago. The president made multiple public appearances on behalf of Hawley.
Hawley vowed to make good on his campaign promises, like backing “pro-Constitution and pro-America judges” and pushing for trade agreements that create jobs in the United States.
- North Dakota
Democrats lost another moderate senator in this state, where Republican Kevin Cramer won by 10 percentage points. The race was closer early in the campaign, before Sen. Heidi Heitkamp opposed the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She never recovered from the political damage the vote inflicted.
Cramer will leave the House, where he served as North Dakota’s lone representative. The small state is solidly Republican. Trump pounded Hillary Clinton there by a whopping 36 percent in 2016.
A usually comfortable place for Republican officeseekers, the Lone Star State was the site of a fierce fight pitting GOP Sen. Ted Cruz against Democrat Beto O’Rourke. The challenger mounted an aggressive campaign that nearly made the incumbent a one-term senator.
The O’Rourke campaign turned out throngs of young people and minority voters. The candidate espoused a left-wing philosophy that contrasted sharply with Cruz’s staunch conservatism. The senator described his opponent as a “socialist”on issues such as taxes and immigration.
Following his re-election, Cruz promised the 49 percent of Texas voters who cast ballots against him that he will represent their interests, as well as those of his supporters. The senator acknowledged that he could have run a better campaign in terms of its “tone” and “outreach.”
When GOP Sen. Bob Corker decided to not seek another term, Republicans in this state worried that a Democrat might succeed him. Thanks to Marsha Blackburn, that did not happen. The GOP congresswoman beat Phil Bredesen by 11 percent, greatly diminishing Democratic dreams of capturing the Senate.
The Tennessean reported that Blackburn prevailed because of her “fiery” and “combative” style, which is unusual in a state that historically produces middle-of-the-road politicians with more constrained rhetoric. The Republican ran on a conservative platform and hosted Trump at rallies on three occasions during the race. She told voters that the election was a referendum on the president’s policies, a message that resonated in the right-leaning state.
Blackburn will be the first female senator to represent Tennessee. Only two other women have ever been elected there in statewide elections.
Losing the House
Democratic wins in races for House seats came early and often on Tuesday, which is typical for the non-presidential party in a mid-term election. Thirty GOP representatives lost their re-election campaigns. Here is a look at some of the races that helped Democrats take over control of the House.
- Virginia’s Seventh District
Republicans knew it was going to be a long night when incumbent Rep. Dave Brat lost to Abigail Spanberger. To compete in this conservative district, the former CIA officer claimed to be less liberal than most of her fellow Democrats. Brat, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, embraced traditional right-wing positions and praised Trump.
The election was so close that Brat refused to concede until provisional ballots are included in the totals. However, it appeared that enough women turned out for the election to put Spanberger over the top. With the help of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other outside groups, she had twice as much money to spend on the campaign as her opponent.
- Virginia’s Tenth District
Another Republican seat in this state flipped to Democrats when Rep. Barbara Comstock lost to state Sen. Jennifer Wexton. GOP strategists had feared that their candidate would have difficulty winning a third term because, unlike the Seventh District, the suburban Tenth is fairly liberal. Clinton won by 10 points there two years ago.
The northern Virginia district has sent Republicans to the House in 30 of the last 33 elections, covering a span of 66 years. Some pundits blamed this year’s outcome on Trump’s unpopularity in that part of the state. Comstock lost despite having raised more money than her opponent.
- New York’s 22ndDistrict
This election was a crushing blow for Republicans because Trump won there in 2016 and many pundits thought Rep. Claudia Tenney was on her way to winning a second term. Democrat Anthony Brindisi toppled the incumbent by less than 1,300 votes.
The Tenney campaign is pinning its slim hopes on absentee and provisional votes that officials will not start counting until Nov. 14. Experts do not expect the ballots to change the outcome.
Tenney unabashedly linked herself with Trump. The president, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan, held fundraisers on her behalf.
- New Hampshire’s First District
This seat, which was open due to the retirement of Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, went to another Democrat. Chris Pappas edged out the Republican, Eddie Edwards, a former police chief who was vying to become the first African-American to represent New Hampshire in Congress.
Edwards called himself a “rock-ribbed” conservative, “pro-2nd Amendment and pro-life.” He pledged to vote for more tax cuts and fewer business regulations. Pappas, the first openly gay politician ever elected to Congress in the Granite State, ran on an anti-Trump agenda.
- Iowa’s First and Third Districts
Two longtime GOP congressmen were forced into retirement in the Hawkeye State. Cindy Axne won the Des Moines-area First District over Rep. David Young, while Abby Finkenauer beat Rep. Rod Blum in northeast Iowa’s First District. Another GOP congressman, Steve King, narrowly held onto his seat in northwest Iowa.
Young aligned himself with Trump, who barely won the Iowa vote two years ago. The congressman fell just short, with 47 percent of the vote to Axne’s 49 percent. Finkenhaur’s margin of victory over Blum was 50 percent to 45 percent.