Dems gain in quest for House con­trol

Repub­li­cans main­tain ma­jor­ity con­trol of the Sen­ate

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Peo­ples

WASH­ING­TON — Democrats were gain­ing sig­nif­i­cant ground in the bat­tle for House con­trol Tues­day night, while Repub­li­cans held onto their ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate as vot­ers weighed in on the first na­tion­wide elec­tion in Don­ald Trump’s tur­bu­lent pres­i­dency.

With con­trol of Con­gress, state­houses and the pres­i­dent’s agenda at stake, some of the na­tion’s top elec­tions were too close to call.

Democrats won half the seats they needed to claim House con­trol with dozens ad­di­tional com­pet­i­tive con­tests re­main­ing. Vic­to­ries in con­tested races across Florida, New York, Vir­ginia, Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota gave them cause for op­ti­mism.

The Democrats’ nar­row path to the Sen­ate was slammed shut af­ter set­backs in In­di­ana, Ten­nessee, North Dakota and Texas.

Trump’s team im­me­di­ately sought to give him credit for re­tain­ing their nar­row Sen­ate ma­jor­ity, even as their foothold in the more com­pet­i­tive House bat­tle­field ap­peared to be slip­ping.

“It’s a huge mo­ment and vic­tory for the pres­i­dent,” Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders told re­porters at the White House Tues­day night.

Two is­sues more than any oth­ers were on vot­ers’ minds. 25 per­cent de­scribed health care and im­mi­gra­tion as the most im­por­tant is­sues in the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to AP VoteCast, a na­tional sur­vey of the elec­torate. Nearly two-thirds said Trump was a rea­son for their vote.

Democrats, whose very rel­e­vance in the Trump era de­pended on win­ning at least one cham­ber of Con­gress, were laser­fo­cused on health care as they pre­dicted vic­to­ries that would break up the GOP’s mo­nop­oly in Wash­ing­ton and state gov­ern­ments.

The po­lit­i­cal and prac­ti­cal stakes were sky-high.

Democrats could de­rail Trump’s leg­isla­tive agenda for the next two years should they win con­trol of the House. And they would claim sub­poena power to in­ves­ti­gate Trump’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional short­com­ings.

Some Democrats have al­ready vowed to force the re­lease of his tax re­turns. Oth­ers have pledged to pur­sue im­peach­ment, although re­moval from of­fice is un­likely so long as the GOP con­trols the Sen­ate or even main­tains a healthy mi­nor­ity.

Yet Trump’s party will main­tain Sen­ate con­trol for the next two years, at least.

In Texas, Sen Ted Cruz staved off a tough chal­lenge from Demo­crat Beto O’Rourke, whose records­mash­ing fundrais­ing and celebrity have set off buzz he could be a cred­i­ble 2020 White House con­tender.

In In­di­ana, Trump­backed busi­ness­man Mike Braun de­feated Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Joe Don­nelly. And in Ten­nessee, Con­gress­woman Mar­sha Black­burn de­feated for­mer Gov. Phil Bre­desen, a top Demo­cratic re­cruit.

In the leadup to the elec­tion, Repub­li­cans pri­vately ex­pressed con­fi­dence in their nar­row Sen­ate ma­jor­ity but feared the House could slip away. The GOP’s grip on high-pro­file gov­er­nor­ships in Florida , Ge­or­gia and Wis­con­sin were at risk as well.

Long lines and mal­func­tion­ing ma­chines marred the first hours of vot­ing in some precincts, in­clud­ing in Ge­or­gia, where some vot­ers re­ported wait­ing up to three hours to vote in a hotly con­tested gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion. More than 40 mil­lion Amer­i­cans had al­ready voted, ei­ther by mail or in per­son, break­ing early vot­ing records across 37 states, ac­cord­ing to an AP anal­y­sis.

Nearly 40 per­cent of vot­ers cast their bal­lots to ex­press op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to AP VoteCast, the na­tional sur­vey of the elec­torate, while one-in-four said they voted to ex­press sup­port for Trump.

Over­all, 6 in 10 vot­ers said the coun­try was headed in the wrong di­rec­tion, but roughly that same num­ber de­scribed the na­tional econ­omy as ex­cel­lent or good.

Trump en­cour­aged vot­ers to view the first na­tion­wide elec­tion of his pres­i­dency as a ref­er­en­dum on his lead­er­ship, point­ing proudly to the surg­ing econ­omy at re­cent ral­lies.

He bet big on a xeno­pho­bic clos­ing mes­sage, warn­ing of an im­mi­grant “in­va­sion” that promised to spread vi­o­lent crime and drugs across the na­tion. Sev­eral tele­vi­sion net­works, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s fa­vorite Fox News Chan­nel, yanked a Trump cam­paign ad­ver­tise­ment off the air on the eve of the elec­tion, de­ter­min­ing that its por­trayal of a mur­der­ous im­mi­grant went too far.

The pres­i­dent’s cur­rent job ap­proval, set at 40 per­cent by Gallup, was the low­est at this point of any first-term pres­i­dent in the mod­ern era. Both Barack Obama’s and Bill Clin­ton’s num­bers were 5 points higher, and both suf­fered ma­jor midterm losses of 63 and 54 House seats re­spec­tively.

Democrats needed to pick up two dozen seats to seize the House ma­jor­ity and two seats to con­trol the Sen­ate.

Demo­cratic Sens. Joe Manchin in West Vir­ginia and Tammy Bald­win in Wis­con­sin won re­elec­tion. And in New Jersey, Democrats re­elected em­bat­tled Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez, who, less than a year ago, stood trial for fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges. The Jus­tice De­part­ment dropped the charges af­ter his trial ended in an hung jury.

Democrats’ per­for­mance in the House bat­tle­field was mixed.

In Vir­ginia, po­lit­i­cal new­comer Jen­nifer Wex­ton de­feated two-term GOP Rep. Barbara Com­stock. The Repub­li­can in­cum­bent had been branded Barbara “Trump­stock” by Democrats in a race that pointed to Trump’s un­pop­u­lar­ity among col­lege-ed­u­cated women in the sub­urbs.

In south Florida, for­mer Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Donna Sha­lala de­feated Repub­li­can Maria Elvira Salazar.

Democrats failed to de­feat a vul­ner­a­ble in­cum­bent in Ken­tucky, where Repub­li­can Rep. Andy Barr won over for­mer Ma­rine fighter pi­lot Amy McGrath.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House were up for re­elec­tion, although fewer than 90 were con­sid­ered com­pet­i­tive. Some 35 Sen­ate seats were in play, as were al­most 40 gov­er­nor­ships and the bal­ance of power in vir­tu­ally ev­ery state leg­is­la­ture.

Mean­while, sev­eral 2020 pres­i­den­tial prospects eas­ily won re-elec­tion, in­clud­ing Sens. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont, El­iz­a­beth Warren of Mas­sachusetts, Sher­rod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo.

Trump spent the day at the White House, tweet­ing, mak­ing calls, mon­i­tor­ing the races and meet­ing with his po­lit­i­cal team.

He and the first lady were to host an evening watch party for fam­ily and friends. Among those ex­pected: Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, an in­for­mal ad­viser to the pres­i­dent.

Tues­day’s elec­tions also tested the strength of a Trump-era po­lit­i­cal re­align­ment de­fined by evolv­ing di­vi­sions among vot­ers by race, gen­der, and es­pe­cially ed­u­ca­tion.

Trump’s Repub­li­can coali­tion is in­creas­ingly older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a col­lege de­gree. Democrats are re­ly­ing more upon women, peo­ple of color, young peo­ple and col­lege grad­u­ates.

Women voted con­sid­er­ably more in fa­vor of their con­gres­sional Demo­cratic can­di­date — with fewer than 4 in 10 vot­ing for the Repub­li­can, ac­cord­ing to VoteCast, a na­tion­wide sur­vey of more than 113,000 vot­ers and about 20,000 non­vot­ers — con­ducted for The As­so­ci­ated Press by NORC at the Univer­sity of Chicago.

In sub­ur­ban ar­eas where key House races will be de­cided, vot­ers skewed sig­nif­i­cantly to­ward Democrats by a nearly 10-point mar­gin.

The de­mo­graphic di­vides were col­or­ing the po­lit­i­cal land­scape in dif­fer­ent ways.

Democrats were most op­ti­mistic about the House, a sprawl­ing bat­tle­field set largely in Amer­ica’s sub­urbs where more ed­u­cated and af­flu­ent vot­ers in both par­ties have soured on Trump’s tur­bu­lent pres­i­dency, de­spite the strength of the na­tional econ­omy.

Democrats faced a far more dif­fi­cult chal­lenge in the Sen­ate, where they were al­most ex­clu­sively on de­fense in ru­ral states where Trump re­mains pop­u­lar. Demo­cratic Sen­ate in­cum­bents were up for re-elec­tion, for ex­am­ple, in North Dakota, In­di­ana, and Mis­souri — states Trump car­ried by al­most 25 per­cent­age points on av­er­age two years ago.

His­tory was work­ing against the pres­i­dent in the Sen­ate: 2002 was the only midterm elec­tion in the past three decades when the party hold­ing the White House gained Sen­ate seats.

Democrats boasted record di­ver­sity on bal­lots.

[AP PHOTO/ALEX BRAN­DON]

Demo­crat Jen­nifer Wex­ton speaks at her elec­tion night party af­ter de­feat­ing Rep. Barbara Com­stock, R-Va., Tues­day in Dulles, Va.

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