Royal Oak Tribune

Election splits Congress, GOP bolstered as Democrats falter

- By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON » The election scrambled seats in the House and Senate but ultimately left Congress much like it began, deeply split as voters resisted big changes despite the heated race at the top of the ticket for the White House.

It’s an outcome that dampens Democratic demands for a bold new agenda, emboldens Republican­s and almost ensures partisan gridlock regardless of who wins the presidency. Or perhaps, as some say, it provides a rare opening for modest acrossthe-aisle cooperatio­n.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on track to keep control of the Democratic House, but saw her majority shrinking and her leadership called into question.

Control of the Senate tilted Republican­s’ way as they fended off an onslaught of energized challenger­s, though a few races remained undecided Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he’s confident “no matter who ends up running the government” they’ll be “trying to overcome all that and get results.”

One certainty is the upended projection­s will force a rethinking of polling, fundraisin­g and the very messages the parties use to reach voters in the Trump era and beyond.

By evening, Pelosi had all but declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner, saying House Democrats “will now have the opportunit­y to deliver extraordin­ary progress” on party priorities — lowering health care costs, providing jobs through new infrastruc­ture and others.

But the dismal outcome for congressio­nal Democrats put in question the ambitious plans for legislativ­e overhauls pushed by the party, eager for a sweep of Washington government.

Even if Democrats capture the White House and a narrowly split Senate, Pelosi’s leverage to force dealmaking on her terms will be diminished by her House losses.

If Donald Trump wins another term, his Republican allies particular­ly in the Senate will likely feel more comfortabl­e sticking with him after escaping an electoral wipeout, though they have yet to outline a GOP agenda.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist close to McConnell, said win or lose Trump “reorganize­d the political parties,” turning Republican­s, not Democrats, into the party of “working- class” America.

“Democrats have a lot to think about when it comes to those voters,” Jennings said. “And Republican­s have a lot to think about enacting policies germane to those voters.”

Democrats countered that with Biden on the brink of victory, the mandate for solutions to the coronaviru­s crisis, faltering economy and other big issues was as strong as ever.

“We’re going to get back to the business of governing,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist. “Republican­s are going to have a choice — whether they’re going to be helpful or stand in way.”

Most immediatel­y, a COVID relief bill remains within reach, as the pandemic blazes through the states. McConnell said he would also like to negotiate a big spending bill to keep the government running past a mid-December deadline.

House Republican­s picked up five seats, so far, deflating Pelosi’s plans to reach deep into Trump country by making rare gains with women and minority candidates.

Republican­s defeated several Democratic freshmen who delivered the House majority in 2018 in a backlash against Trump, by linking them to their most liberal members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, and inaccurate­ly branding them all as “socialist.”

“We expanded this party that reflects America, that looks like America,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., in a conference call with reporters.

A handful of new progressiv­es will be coming to Washington to join House Democrats, while Republican­s will see new right-f lank members, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has espoused unfounded QAnon conspiracy theories and won a vacant seat in northwest Georgia. Trump has called Greene a “future Republican star.”

While Democrats picked up must-win Senate seats in Colorado and Arizona, they suffered a setback in Alabama, and Republican­s held their own in one race after another — in South Carolina, Maine, Iowa, Texas, Kansas and Montana, dramatical­ly limiting Democrats’ hopes of making inroads.

“I know folks are anxious,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told followers on a live Twitter video. “We need to count the votes.”

Democrats halted a Republican push for John James, a Black businessma­n trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, who won reelection late Wednesday.

The races attracted an unpreceden­ted outpouring of small- dollar donations for Democrats from Americans apparently voting with their pocketbook­s to propel longshot Senate campaigns.

“You wasted a lot of money,” said White House ally Sen. Lindsey Graham in Columbia, South Carolina, after defeating Jaime Harrison, despite the Democrat’s stunning $100 million haul for his upstart campaign.

Still, Republican strategist Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, which supports GOP senators, said future candidates are going to have to step up their own fundraisin­g.

McConnell also warned of the continued problems Republican­s face in the Trump era as voters turn away from the GOP.

“We need to win back the suburbs,” McConnell said. “We had a better election than most people thought we’d have, but we have improvemen­ts we need to make.”

Republican­s believe Democrats erred by focusing almost exclusivel­y on the COVID crisis and the risks to Americans’ health care as Trump and the GOP try to unravel the Obama- era Affordable Care Act.

Voters care almost as much about the economy, they said.

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