Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections, while the Republicans expanded their Senate majority, upending the balance of power for the remainder of President Donald Trump’s term.
A divided Congress will likely stop nearly all of Trump’s agenda in its tracks, aside for his conservative remaking of the U.S. judiciary. In her victory speech in Washington, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the newly elected lower chamber would be “about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances on the Trump administration.”
That also means that numerous House committees will have the power to subpoena documents and force administration officials to testify about a slew of issues, including his executive orders on numerous controversial policies, on his businesses and on the allegations that his campaign worked with Russians to undermine the 2016 election. White House officials worry that he is not prepared, nor does he have the legal firepower, to fight what’s coming.
Despite the mixed result for the GOP, Trump called the election a “tremendous success” on Twitter. He was particularly pleased with the results in states he visited the most, including Missouri and Florida, and expected some of the losses in places like Kansas, a Trump adviser familiar with his thinking said.
A series of firsts across the country signaled voters were in the mood for change during an unconventional time in American history. Women won big, taking nearly 100 offices, including several governor’s offices and congressional seats. Two Native American women, two Muslim women and two Texas Latina women were elected to Congress. Colorado elected the nation’s first openly gay governor.
But Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum failed in his bid to become the first black governor of Florida, conceding to Republican Ron DeSantis. And in her bid to become the country’s first black female governor, Democrat Stacey Abrams was trailing Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia.
Fueled by energized liberals and moderate suburbanites, Democrats were poised to gain more than the net of 23 seats needed to take control of the House for the first time since 2010.
In Miami, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell beat Republican Carlos Curbelo and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, a Democrat, defeated television anchor Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican for an open House seat. In suburban Kansas City, Democrat Sharice Davids beat four-term Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, making her not only the first Native American woman but also the first lesbian to represent Kansas.
In the race for the Senate, Republicans picked up three seats, defeating Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Republicans also managed to hold on to two contested Senate races. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Republican Marsha Blackburn successfully defended Tennessee’s open Senate seat.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents won re-election in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin, states Trump carried in 2016. The Florida Senate race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott remained deadlocked.
At least one race will last beyond Tuesday. Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy advanced to a Nov. 27 runoff election.
And Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, won an open Senate seat in Utah.
Democrats also started to cut into the GOP’s massive advantage at the gubernatorial level, flipping seats in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico. Republicans entered the night in control of 33 governor’s mansions, compared to 16 for the Democrats.
Although an incumbent president typically loses some of his party’s seats in a midterm election, President Trump went out of his way to make the midterms a report card on his performance in office. He declared at almost nightly rallies in the closing days that a vote for a Republican was a vote for him.
Sanders said the president held 50 rallies — 30 in the last two months — in support of GOP candidates.
“The climate in our country right now, it just feels very divisive,” said Caitlyn Ziegler, a 27-year-old who waited an hour to vote in Kansas City. “I just feel like if I want to be part of the conversation on either side, I want to be able to say, ‘Hey I voted.’”
Even in state and local races, there was national interest. Kim Davis, the clerk who famously refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, lost her re-election bid for the Rown County clerkship in Kentucky. And a ballot initiative in Florida to restore voting rights to convicted felons passed.
Turnout was large, but not record-breaking, as experts predicted about 45 percent of eligible voters chose to participate.
East Coast voters had to contend with stormy weather, which normally reduces turnout, but there were morning reports of people waiting 30 minutes or longer to vote in Georgia, Florida and other states. Some of the lines were due to election glitches.
In North Carolina, election officials blamed “high humidity” for some voting machines being unable to read ballots. In Kansas City, an election board official reported that poll workers were locked out of a polling location for about 30-40 minutes Tuesday morning.
Exit polls conducted by CNN and other networks showed health care the driving issue for Democrats. For Republicans, immigration was a key issue, which Trump drove home in the final few rallies.
Election Day saw some blatant attempts to lessen turnout with disinformation on social media, and there were glitches nationwide that could slow the vote count. The federal government warned of active campaigns by Russia and other nations to disrupt the elections.
McClatchy’s Katie Glueck, Alex Roarty, Stuart Leavenworth, Lindsay Wise, Bryan Lowry, Anita Kumar and Tim Johnson contributed to this report, along with Allison Kite of the Kansas City Star and Erin Tracy of The Modesto Bee.
Adam Wollner: 202-383-6020, @adamwollner