Republicans on Tuesday gained ground in their push to take control of the House, although Democrats appeared to be holding their own against hard-right GOP candidates in crucial districts as they grasped to defend their narrow majority.
Republicans flipped a handful of crucial House seats in Florida and Virginia, putting the party closer to netting the five seats they needed to win control. That would position them to thwart President Joe Biden’s policy agenda and aggressively investigate his every move.
Key races that could determine control of the Senate remained too close to call, but Democrats picked up a critical seat with a victory by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Pennsylvania.
Far from the red bloodbath that Republicans had forecast in the fight for control of Congress, early results indicated that Democrats had held off some of the bleakest forces that have historically left the president’s party with sizable losses in midterm elections. It raised the prospect of a narrow Republican majority in the House, shaped by an ascendant hard-right flank loyal to former President Donald Trump, that would struggle to perform the basic tasks of governance even as it used its power to take aim at Biden and score political points against Democrats.
“It is clear that House Democratic members and candidates are strongly outperforming expectations across the country,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement.
By the end of Tuesday night, voters had delivered a mixed verdict after an extraordinary election cycle that was driven, at least on the surface, by concerns about soaring inflation and rising crime, but played out amid a swirl of other factors: a deeply unpopular president, a landmark Supreme Court decision upending abortion rights and the fallout from a right-wing insurrection — with Trump and his influence looming over it all.
Republicans claimed two open seats in Florida held by Democrats whose districts had been redrawn to include more conservative voters. In at least one of those races, a hard-right Republican, Anna Paulina Luna, was set to succeed a retiring Democrat, Rep. Charlie Crist, who had prided himself on his moderate credentials.
The GOP picked up a critical seat in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat and member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, conceded to Jen A. Kiggans, a Republican state senator.
“Please don’t boo,” Luria said to her supporters, who were clearly upset as she acknowledged the loss at a campaign watch party. “The success of this district depends on her success.”
But by the early hours of Wednesday morning, even as Republicans were still within striking distance of capturing the House majority, they had missed critical opportunities to pick up seats, including in North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Ohio, after nominating far-right candidates who espoused Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Republicans appeared set to notch one of the poorest midterm performances for a party out of power since the 1980s, with the exception of 2002, when Republicans added to their majority as President George W. Bush’s popularity surged following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on NBC.
In Washington, the mood among Republicans was subdued. A hotel ballroom in downtown Washington where Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, had planned a victory party was quiet and mostly empty by midnight, with no sign of the man who once said that his party could flip as many as 60 seats.
Democrats hung on in competitive races against hard-right Republicans in a crucial district in central Virginia, as well as contests in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, scuttling GOP hopes of notching early, overwhelming victories.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, the 20-term Democratic congresswoman, handily put down a challenge from J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and whose campaign unraveled after he was found to have misled voters about the extent of his military service.
And Democrats captured a new seat in the conservative-leaning exurbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, after Republicans nominated Bo Hines, a 27-year-old political novice and onetime football phenomenon who won Trump’s endorsement.
Even as polls showed that concerns about the economy and public safety were top of mind for voters, endangered House Democrats largely focused their closing arguments on preserving abortion rights and protecting democracy, betting that those issues would energize independent voters and women enough to allow otherwise vulnerable Democrats to scrape by.
For many of them, the bet appeared to pay off.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, whose victory in 2018 helped Democrats secure the House majority, narrowly survived a challenge from Yesli Vega, a hard-right Republican and sheriff’s deputy. Democrats had been optimistic that Spanberger, one of their strongest candidates, would be able to fend off Vega, who was scrutinized for remarks she made suggesting that women’s bodies prevent pregnancies from rape. They had worried that a loss in the northern Virginia exurbs would signal a difficult night to come.
Democrats also were relieved to hold an open seat in Rhode Island in a district that Biden had won by more than a dozen points, but that had appeared at risk when Republicans had fielded a centrist candidate, Allan Fung.
A former mayor, Fung had campaigned to be a “voice of moderation” in Congress but narrowly lost the seat to Seth Magaziner, the state’s general treasurer. His loss was a sign that it would not be as easy as Republicans had hoped for even their best candidates to make inroads in traditionally blue districts.
And in another unexpected development, Rep. Lauren Boebert, the hard-right lawmaker from Colorado, was facing an unexpectedly spirited challenge from Adam Frisch, a former city councilman, in a district that Trump had won by nearly 8 points in 2020.
Republicans were still confident that they would pick off seats that were held by Democrats but vacated by popular incumbents, including in districts in Wisconsin and Arizona.
Despite the mixed results, Republicans appeared on track to increase their numbers and add to their increasingly influential right wing, as hard-right GOP candidates in safe Republican seats cruised to victory. They were poised to elect dozens of candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as well as a few who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as loyalists of Trump stormed the building, disrupting the certification of Biden’s victory.
In Oklahoma, Josh Brecheen, a fourth-generation rancher, and former state senator was set to replace Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who was running for Senate. Brecheen, who as a state legislator introduced bills against teaching evolution in school, had pledged that he would not allow himself to “be groomed for conformity into moderate positions and debt spending by the Republican establishment.”
Republicans appeared to be building toward a House majority thanks in large part to key victories by candidates whom the party for years had struggled to recruit: women and people of color with powerful personal stories, many of them rooted in military service.
Still, a narrow House Republican majority would likely be shaped by the party’s restive far-right wing, whose members have shown little interest in legislating and instead have fashioned themselves in Trump’s image, demonstrating a keen appetite for exacting vengeance on the Biden administration.
Months before Election Day, right-wing lawmakers were already demanding their party use the power of the House majority to impeach Biden as well as members of his Cabinet, including his secretary of state, his attorney general and his homeland security secretary.
A Republican-led House with a narrow majority could also struggle to keep the government funded and prevent the country from defaulting on its debt, which would plunge the global financial system into chaos. And several hard-right lawmakers have publicly threatened to leverage their power in the majority to cut off the flow of U.S. aid to Ukraine, although the hawkish lawmakers in line to lead the House’s national security committees have pushed back on the idea.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.