Midterms 2018: Record number of women elected as Democrats seize House but come up short in Senate

Andrew Buncombe

America’s political landscape has undergone a transformation, after a new crop of politicians - more diverse, more female and more progressive — helped Democrats seize control of the House of Representatives and place Donald Trump under unprecedented scrutiny.

After the most expensive midterm elections in history, and perhaps the most consequential for decades, the president’s Republican Party did enough to retain control of the Senate. It also held off stiff challenges in several high-profile state house races, including Florida and Georgia.

But on a night when America’s suburban voters appeared to reject Mr Trump’s harsh rhetoric and policies, the nation elected a record number of women representatives, the first two female Muslim congresswomen, and a slew of candidates who ran on markedly progressive platforms. It was these candidates that helped the party secure the House for the first time since 2010 and enabled several Democrats to immediately put the president on warning.

Nancy Pelosi, the current Democratic leader in the House and the woman who is likely to become its new speaker, told supporters: “Thanks to you we owned the ground. Thanks to you tomorrow will be a new day in America. Remember this feeling, know the power to win.”

She added: “Today, the American people have spoken to restore that vision.”

The White House issued a statement saying the president had called Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell to congratulate him on the party’s gains. It said he also spoke with outgoing speaker Paul Ryan and Ms Pelosi. “He and the vice president will continue to make calls tonight and tomorrow,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Ms Pelosi’s chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said Mr Trump had “acknowledged the leader’s call for bipartisanship in her victory remarks”.

Yet Mr Trump appeared to be intent on ignoring the defeat in the House. “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all,” he tweeted.

Nevertheless, Democrats made clear they would make use of their control of the House committees to place the administration’s actions, and its members, under a scrutiny it has so far largely avoided.

On Tuesday night, New York congressman Jerry Nadler, who is set to become chairman of the House judiciary committee, issued a stark warning to the president.

“This election was about accountability. Donald Trump may not like hearing it but for the first time, his administration is going to be held accountable,” he said. “He’s going to learn that he’s not above the law.”

In may respects, Tuesday saw two political processes play out. By holding onto the Senate, and even adding members, Republicans achieved something that is rare for a party that controls the White House. Mr Trump will hope this shows he still has solid support across the breadth of the country that will stand him in good stead in 2020.

But in the House races, it was a different story. Polling data showed that in countless important suburban districts, women voters rejected the president and a rhetoric that has become increasingly divisive. Critics say it has helped create an atmosphere in which attacks such as the killings at a Pittsburgh synagogue have become more likely.

Young voters also swung aggressively towards Democratic candidates, with those 18 to 34 backing Democrats by 62 per cent to 34 per cent. That was a large increase from 2014, when 54 per cent of young voters backed Democrats and 36 per cent Republicans, which amounted to an 18-point gap.

CNN said nearly two-thirds of voters said Mr Trump was a reason for their vote, while about a third said he was not. Nearly four in ten voters said they cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, while a quarter of voters said they voted to express support for Mr Trump.

Exit polling also showed that of chief concern to voters was healthcare, an issue on which the Democrats had hammered Mr Trump and the Republican over their efforts to scrap Barack Obama’s affordable care act. Around 58 per cent of voters said Democrats would better defend those who are or have been sick.

The Associated Press said six out of ten women cast their votes for Democratic candidates and four for Republicans. One of the results of this, is that the House was going to see its current figure of 84 congresswomen - a record high - broken.

“It may not be a blue wave, it’s a rainbow wave,” said CNN analyst Van Jones, describing what he sees as the beginning of a new Democratic party. “Younger, browner, cooler, more women, more veterans.”

Among the new crop of politicians were Sharice Davids of Kansas, who won her seat to become the become the first Native American and gay woman elected to the House. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the nation’s first Muslim women to congress.

“We always knew these races are going to be close,” said congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, co-chair of House Democrats’ recruitment efforts. “It’s just a very robust class of candidates that really reflects who we are as a country.”

In some places, the efforts to make history fell short. The charismatic Beto O’Rourke, seeking to become the first Democratic senator elected from Texas for 30 years, was beaten by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, 51-48 in an unusually close race for the 'red' state . “I’m so f***ing proud of you guys,” the Democrat told supporters.

In Florida, Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee, narrowly missed his bid to become Florida’s first African American governor. In Georgia, where the race for governor was dogged by allegations of voter suppression among minority communities, Stacey Abrams refused to concede defeat, but was trailing Republican Brian Kemp, 51-48. “Hard work is in our bones and we have closed the gap between yesterday and tomorrow,” she told supporters.

Republicans also made history. Congresswoman Kristi Noem became the first woman elected governor in South Dakota. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn became that state’s first female senator.