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House Democrats will have fewer members but still a majority next Congress

Late calls put party at 218-seat threshold in chamber

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats last week, “We did not win every battle but we did win the war.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats last week, “We did not win every battle but we did win the war.” (Caroline Brehaman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats will have a smaller majority in the House next year after a campaign in which they tried to expand the battlefield deeper into Republican territory only to see districts won two years ago snap back to their GOP leanings.

That became clear Tuesday night after a handful of races where ballot counting was slow were finally called by The Associated Press, giving the Democrats projected wins in the minimum 218 seats needed to control House committees, the speaker’s gavel and the agenda of bills that reach the floor.

A surge in mail ballots due to the pandemic prolonged vote counting in a number of states, and about 16 House races have still not been called. 

Although they held on to the House, Democrats came up short in several races where they hoped to make gains, and so far have lost eight incumbents, seven of whom won two years ago and helped the party take control. Further losses are still possible, with incumbents trailing in states such as California and New York where ballot counting is slow. 

Republicans have so far netted six seats, including Michigan’s 3rd District, where Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash is retiring. So far the party breakdown for the next Congress includes 218 Democrats and 201 Republicans.

Democrats Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa were among those who lost GOP-leaning districts they had flipped in 2018. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna E. Shalala lost South Florida districts in part because of a drop in support from Cuban American voters who had sided with Democrats in 2018. In California, Harley Rouda lost his coastal Orange County district that had long elected Republicans before him. And longtime Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson, whose rural district backed Trump by more than 30 points in 2016, also lost to a well-funded GOP challenger. All but Mucarsel-Powell were ousted by Republican women. 

Democrats did flip two open seats in North Carolina, which became more Democratic after court-ordered redistricting. And they flipped an open seat in suburban Atlanta, with Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux defeating Republican Rich McCormick in Georgia’s 7th District.

Meanwhile, some of the most endangered Republicans held on. Reps. Rodney Davis in Illinois’ 13th District and Ann Wagner in Missouri’s 2nd District kept well-funded Democratic challengers at bay. Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska fended off a challenge from Kara Eastman, carrying his Omaha-area seat even as President-elect Joe Biden also won the district’s electoral vote. (Nebraska splits three of its electoral votes by congressional district.)

Democratic leaders have stressed that, despite the unexpected losses, their party still controls the House and they have a mandate to govern with Biden. Democrats also have a path to a narrow Senate majority, depending on the outcomes of two runoffs in Georgia.

 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is running to lead the House again, told her caucus on a call last week, “We did not win every battle, but we did win the war.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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