Democrats Regain the House, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Matthew Waterfield

After one of the most fiercely contested midterm election campaigns in recent history, the results have come in and the Democrats have regained the House of Representatives, having lost it in 2010.

Pundits and pollsters have long predicted that the Democrats were on course to retake the House. Modest Democratic gains in the 2016 House of Representatives election and a ‘special election’ (the American equivalent of a by-election) victory earlier this year left the Democrats needing just 23 seats to win the House back. The ‘deluxe forecast’ of political analysis website, FiveThirtyEight, predicted that the Democrats would win 36 seats and gave them an 86% chance of retaking the House, in line with other forecasts.

Although there are still some seats yet to declare, the Democrats have already won a majority of seats in the House. The first signs that everything was going to plan for them came early last night when the Republican held seats of the Virginia 10th and Florida 27th districts fell to the Democrats. The Democratic challengers there, Jennifer Wexton and Donna Shalala, won by healthy margins, but these seats had been categorised as ‘likely Democratic’ and so were seen as low hanging fruit, with the Democrats needing to win ‘toss-up’ seats as well if they were to retake the House.

This turned out not to be a problem for them. When votes started being counted in the Virginia 7th district, seen as a toss-up, early returns augured well for Democratic challenger Abigail Spanberger. Sure enough, she ended up defeating Republican incumbent Dave Brat, albeit by a narrow margin. This was significant as back in 2014, the conservative Brat caused a major upset when he defeated then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a party moderate, which some people see as signifying the beginning of the Republicans rightward lurch.

As the night continued, the Democrats continued to make gains. Some of these were in districts long viewed as easy targets, such as the Pennsylvania 5th and the Arizona 2nd, many of which were ‘open seats’ due to their Republican incumbents retiring. They also won several ‘toss-up’ seats too, such as the Florida 26th and the Texas 7th, even where they faced popular Republican incumbents.

However, the Democrats also pulled off some much more impressive, and unexpected, victories. The first shock result was Daniel Donovan, who represented New York’s 11th district, losing his seat to the Democrats, by a somewhat sizeable margin of 6.0%. The loss of this district, which contained all of Staten Island, means that New York City, hometown of Donald Trump, is now represented entirely by Democrats.

Another surprise came in the South Carolina 1st district, where Democratic candidate Joe Cunningham, who’d been given an 8.6% chance of winning the seat, eked out a narrow victory over his Republican opponent, Kate Arrington. This was again particularly significant, as in the Republican primary for that district, Arrington had defeated the moderate incumbent, Mark Sanford, making him one of just two Republican members of Congress to lose their primary election this year.

However, the biggest surprise came in Oklahoma, a state which previously had no Democratic representatives in Congress whatsoever. In its 5th district, Kendra Horn, a Democrat who’d been given just a 6.6% chance of winning the seat, defeated Republican incumbent Steve Russell, the first time a Democrat had won that district since 1974.

A few other results of note occurred as well – Pete Sessions lost his seat after 11 terms representing the Dallas suburbs, while the Republicans gained the heavily white, working class Minnesota 8th district from the Democrats.

The biggest immediate impact of this result will be likely be House Democrats requesting Donald Trump’s tax returns, which have been long sought after by his opponents. While their loss of Senate seats may hinder Democrats’ ability to prevent Republican nominees from being confirmed, their House gains will give them the ability to investigate certain aspects of Trump’s presidency, powers which they will almost certainly use.

Overall, the House election suggested that a small but significant re-alignment is taking place, with Democrats prevailing in wealthy, well-educated suburbs (often won by Mitt Romney in 2012 but by Hillary Clinton in 2016), many of which were considered solidly Republican just a few years ago. 

Many of these districts are in blue states, such as Illinois, New York and New Jersey, so there won’t be many implications for Senate races (or indeed for Electoral College votes in presidential elections) in these areas. However, the Democrats did make some gains in red state suburbs too, most noticeably in Iowa and Texas, and also in states like Oklahoma and Kansas to an extent as well. Whether or not the Democrats are able to consolidate these gains may determine the outcomes of Senate races and presidential elections long after today.

Further Reading

Image: Thomas Hawk @flickr

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