Democrats are likely to retain control of the House, but it's not the broad expansion analysts predicted

Christal Hayes, Rebecca Morin and Ledyard King, USA TODAY
·10 min read

WASHINGTON – Democrats are likely to retain control of the House of Representatives, but projections that they would expand their robust margin are falling short.

Republicans enjoyed some bragging rights, unseating freshmen incumbents in South Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina, while successfully defending several seats in Texas and elsewhere. Early Wednesday, the GOP claimed its biggest prize by knocking off 15-term Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

It's a stark contrast to 2018, when Democrats picked up seats – many in suburban areas – that helped flip the House from Republican control to a Democratic majority. Democrats were likely to pick up a handful of GOP seats, including two in North Carolina districts that were redistricted under court order.

Voters elected the youngest member to Congress, as well as a far-right Republican with ties to the QAnon conspiracy.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of House Democrats' campaign arm, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted Tuesday that the party would not only defend gains made in 2018 but flip districts thought to be in safe Republican territory.

"I think we are going to see some wins in these deep red districts that over time you're going to see going from ruby red to purple to even blue," Bustos said. "This is an Election Day that may end up looking like an election week."

Democrats hold a 232-197 majority over Republicans (with five vacancies). While Republicans targeted freshman Democrats elected during the 2018 midterms and aimed to add some diversity in their ranks, Democrats attempted to flip Republican strongholds. The election remains close at the top of the ticket in the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Control of the Senate hangs in the balance on Election Day: Races to watch

More: President Trump claimed during the debate the GOP will take back the House on Election Day. That is unlikely

Races that have been called

A pair of freshmen Democrats representing Miami-Dade County narrowly lost their seats Tuesday two years after winning GOP seats in South Florida.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ousted a GOP incumbent two years ago, found herself on the losing end Tuesday night in Florida's 26th Congressional District. Rep. Donna Shalala, who won an open seat in 2018, lost in a rematch in the 27th Congressional District to the Republican she beat two years ago.

Broadcast journalist María Elvira Salazar unseated Shalala while Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez defeated Mucarsel-Powell in an area that has become one of swingiest of Florida.

Trump’s message that electing Democrats would lead to socialism seemed to resonate in this South Florida district where Cuban Americans, many who fled Fidel Castro’s authoritarian regime, flocked to Trump. Salazar and Gimenez are Cuban American.

“Today was a rejection of extremism. Today was a rejection of partisanship. Today was a rejection of socialism and the evils of socialism and communism,” Gimenez said at a victory party Tuesday night. “This country needs to start to work together because we have threats from outside and inside and for us to keep fighting, it makes no sense whatsoever.”

•New York's 16th Congressional District: Jamaal Bowman won the race for New York's 16th Congressional District, adding a new voice to the liberal wing of the party in the 117th Congress.

During the primary election, Bowman defeated Rep. Eliot Engel, a powerful House committee chair who was a 16-term Democratic incumbent. Bowman’s win over Engle came amid nationwide protests calling for justice and an end to systemic racism.

Bowman’s primary win offered liberals a measure of solace when Sen. Bernie Sanders lost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

•North Carolina's 11th Congressional District: Madison Cawthorn, a conservative who pulled off an upset in the race for Mark Meadows' House seat in June, won his race against Democrat Moe Davis, becoming the youngest member elected to Congress at 25, a title formerly held by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y..

Cawthorn, who was in a car accident as a teenager that left him paralyzed from the waist down, said his injury inspired him to enter politics.

"The days of AOC and the far left misleading the next generation of Americans are numbered. Tonight, the voters of western North Carolina chose to stand for freedom and a new generation of leadership in Washington,” Cawthorn said after declaring victory Tuesday evening.

Cawthorn's primary win was an upset, because Trump and Meadows endorsed another candidate. The seat became open after Meadows left to become Trump's chief of staff.

Who is Madison Cawthorn? RNC speaker becomes youngest member of Congress

•Georgia's 14th Congressional District: Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right GOP candidate with ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, won in a district that's been solidly Republican, held by Republican Rep. Tom Graves, who announced last year that he would not seek reelection.

More: Trump calls QAnon conspiracy theory supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene a GOP 'star' after Georgia win

Greene beat neurosurgeon John Cowan in the primary runoff despite GOP officials denouncing her for incendiary Islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments and claims that Black people aren't discriminated against.

•South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District: Democrats suffered another loss as freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham was defeated by Republican challenger Nancy Mace.

Cunningham was one of the dozens of Democrats who flipped Republican-held districts to help take control of the House in 2018. His seat was rated as leaning Democratic by The Cook Political Report.

Before Cunningham, the district was a Republican stronghold that the party held for every election since 1981. Trump won the district in 2016 by about 13 points.

•New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District: Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small lost her rematch to Republican Yvette Herrell.

Two years ago, the Democrat won the seat vacated by incumbent Republican Steve Pearce by beating Herrell in one of the nation’s closest congressional races. This time, Herrell won the sprawling district that borders Mexico by a large margin.

The Republican won 54% to 46%, expanding the number of Republican women on Capitol Hill.

•Minnesota's 7th Congressional District: Rep. Collin Peterson, who represented his rural Minnesota district for three decades, lost a tough bid for reelection Tuesday, even as Joe Biden won the state against Donald Trump.

The 15-term Democrat who chaired the House Agriculture Committee lost his 7th Congressional District seat to former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who was aided by outside spending from GOP donors.

After nearly 92% of the vote was counted, Fischbach led comfortably, 54% to 40%.

Peterson touted his work on a farm bill and trade deals that helped his agrarian district, but he was fighting to keep a district that Trump won by more than 30 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

More: Collin Peterson, Jeff Van Drew, the only two Democrats who voted against a Trump impeachment inquiry

•Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District: Freshman Rep. Kendra Horn conceded the race to Republican challenger Stephanie Bice.

Horn, a moderate, helped Democrats take control of the district for the first time in nearly 50 years in an area that Trump won by about 13 points. She is the latest of a group of freshman Democrats to lose reelection for a second term.

House districts that flipped in 2018 among those to keep watching

•New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Jeff Van Drew has arguably one of the most fascinating House races of this cycle. A freshman, the Republican is in a tight race against Democrat Amy Kennedy, whose family is a political dynasty.

Van Drew switched from the Democratic Party to join Republicans during Trump's impeachment trial. The move was jarring given that Van Drew helped flip the district, which Trump won by nearly 5 points, over to Democrats.

His switch garnered praise from Trump, who invited him to the White House where Van Drew promised Trump his "undying support."

The story behind Van Drew's decision: Here's how partisan wrath over Trump's impeachment changed the future of 2 lawmakers

More: How Jeff Van Drew went from being a Democrat to speaking at the RNC

Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.

•California's 21st Congressional District: Rep. TJ Cox, a freshman Democrat, is in a rematch against Republican David Valadao.

The pair went head-to-head in 2018, and Cox came out on top, defeating Valadao by 862 votes. Cox faces Valadao again in the aftermath of scandals over business dealings and unpaid federal taxes.

The district was won by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by double-digit margins.

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•New York's 11th Congressional District: Rep. Max Rose faces a bitter race against Republican Nicole Malliotakis – a campaign that has included an assortment of curses, accusations of lying and name drops of New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, who is unpopular in the district.

Rose, a freshman Democrat, is neck-and-neck with Malliotakis, a state assemblywoman, in an area Trump won by 10 points.

•Texas districts that didn't go blue: Several Republican-held districts were up for grabs this cycle after incumbents announced they would retire, potentially allowing Democrats to pick up additional seats in Texas, but those gains didn't materialize.

Among the districts are the 23rd Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Will Hurd, a moderate who is retiring. The district, which sits near the U.S.-Mexican border, was won by Hillary Clinton by 4 points in 2016. Republican Tony Gonzalez kept conservative control of the district by fending off Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost to Hurd in 2018. The race had been rated as leaning Democratic by The Cook Political Report.

More: The members of the House and Senate who aren't running again in 2020

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In the 22nd Congressional District, Republican Troy Nehls kept the Houston suburban district in the GOP's hands, fending off Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni after Rep. Pete Olson announced he was retiring. Kulkarni came within reach of beating Olson in 2018.

One other race has gotten a lot of attention: Rep. Chip Roy's campaign to keep the 21st Congressional District in the GOP's hands. He fended off Democratic former state Sen. Wendy Davis in the district, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio.

Republican Beth Van Duyne leads Democrat Candace Valenzuela in trying to succeed GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant who is retiring from the 24th Congressional District. The race was rated as leaning Democratic by The Cook Political Report.

More women, people of color could ascend to Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds the gavel during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3, 2019.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds the gavel during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3, 2019.

The 2018 midterms sent a historic number of women and minorities to the House. The more than 100 women who served in the 116th Congress marked the largest number of women serving in the House in U.S. history, making up nearly a quarter of its membership.

Nearly all of those gains were made by Democrats.

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This cycle, Republicans aimed to break their own records. More than 200 GOP women filed to run this election, and about 100 face Democratic challengers after winning primaries, a huge jump from the 52 female candidates Republicans had in the 2018 cycle.

As of early Wednesday, the ranks of GOP female House members grew by at least three: Salazar in Florida, Herrell in New Mexico and Mace in South Carolina.

Though the number of women on the ticket marked big strides, Republicans aren't likely to see many gains in the House.

House membership is overwhelmingly white, and the Republican conference was set to lose its sole Black member after the retirement of Rep. Hurd in Texas.

As results poured in Tuesday evening, Byron Donalds won Florida's 19th Congressional District – assuring that at least one Black Republican will serve in House in the 117th Congress. He will replace Rep. Francis Rooney, a retiring moderate who sparred with Trump.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House election races to watch: Democrats likely to hold 2020 majority