Democrats Seize House Control As Blue Wave Washes Across The Suburbs

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pauses while speaking during a midterm election night party hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee November 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Sm... House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pauses while speaking during a midterm election night party hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee November 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
November 6, 2018 10:33 p.m.

Democrats are on pace to take back control of the House in January, riding a wave of suburban fury against President Trump, a disciplined message on health care and a huge upsurge of activism from their base to secure a check on the president’s agenda and win the chamber for the first time since 2010.

The party was well on its way to surpassing the 23 net seats it needed to win the House at about 10:20 ET, as multiple networks called the race. As of 3 a.m. Democrats were closing in on 30 seats, with a number of other pickup opportunities on the West Coast yet to be called.

The victory will return Democrats to the bargaining table in Washington in January, giving them a check on Trump’s policy agenda and subpoena power to investigate the president. Big-name Republicans including House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), controversial conservatives like Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Dave Brat (R-VA), and battle-hardened veterans who’d won earlier tough races like Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) all went down. Democrats picked up some victories as well, defeating Reps. Dan Donovan (R-NY) and Steve Russell (R-OK) and winning outgoing Rep. Mark Sanford’s (R-SC) open seat as well.

The election is the culmination of two years of Democratic activism beginning virtually the day after Trump won the 2016 election and officially kicking off with Women’s Marches across the country on the day after his inauguration.

Women powered the Democrats’ victories across the country as well, driving the highest gender gap in modern history. Women preferred Democrats by a roughly a 20-point margin this election, according to exit polls, up from a 12-point gap for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016 and just a 4-point edge in the 2014 midterms.

But that was far from the only factor.

House Republicans retired in droves this election, with many getting out rather than having to fight tough reelection battles (and more than a few moderates deciding it wasn’t so fun to be in Congress with Trump as president). Fully 50 House Republicans decided to get out of dodge, leave for the Trump administration or running for other office in the last two years. That’s more than one-fifth of the entire GOP caucus, and far more than the 20 Democrats who decided to leave the lower chamber. Many of those seats flipped to the Democrats, a large chunk of their new majority.

The results mark a rebuke of President Trump, whose visage dominated the midterms, though Republicans’ better-than-expected Senate showing negated some of that.

Democrats won a number of historically Republican districts including many that Trump carried just two years ago. The president was a constant presence on the campaign trail in the last six months, but he rarely stopped by to help House Republicans — an illustration of how intensely unpopular he was in suburban districts across the country, and his decision to train his fire only on motivating hardline base voters to ensure he’d keep the Senate.

While Trump’s deeply polarizing reign in office clearly hurt House Republicans, it’s clear that the policies pushed by congressional GOP leaders did significant damage to their party as well.

Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal Obamacare became the centerpiece of House Democrats’ campaigns across the country, with candidates unrelentingly highlighting GOP incumbents’ votes to weaken protections for preexisting conditions to the point that many of those Republicans felt the need to go up with ads of their own claiming that wasn’t true.

Democrats also successfully turned the GOP tax cuts into a net negative in many races, neutralizing an issue Republicans once hoped to run hard on by arguing the massive corporate cuts and tax breaks for wealthy Americans were helping rich people the most, and by fueling the federal deficit would lead Republicans to try to cut Social Security and Medicare in the near future. It certainly didn’t help Republicans that both retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested during the campaign that those programs needed to be reigned in.

The swing in the House came as Democrats overcame gerrymandered districts in a number of states to win seats that in normal election years were out of their reach. They also benefited from a new court-drawn map in Pennsylvania, a state where they had netted three seats with leads in two more, and courts’ decisions in recent years to force minor changes to GOP gerrymanders in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

It’s not clear exactly how big Democrats’ majority will be, as a large number of races are too close to call or await ballot returns. But it appears that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will likely seize back the Speaker’s gavel. While many Democrats called for a bipartisan change in leadership on the campaign trail, fewer than a dozen who won on Tuesday night guaranteed they’d vote against Pelosi, leaving her the tiniest bit of a cushion to become Speaker even as she loses some votes.

But it’s clear that Congress will be a very different place come January.

This story was last updated at 3 a.m. ET.

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