Democrats reel after losses, setbacks in Congress

Republican Sen. Susan Collins triumphed in an expensive contest against Democrat Sara Gideon in Maine, helping Republicans hang onto their likely majority in the U.S. Senate. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s election was a disaster for congressional Democrats, who were expected to pick up nearly a dozen GOP seats in the House but instead lost races while also failing to flip Senate seats held by vulnerable Republicans.

The outlook for Democratic control of the Senate did not improve the day after the election, either, as Republican Sen. Susan Collins triumphed in an expensive contest against Democrat Sara Gideon in Maine. Five Senate races remained uncalled but it appeared unlikely that Democrats would win enough of them to capture the majority.

“It was a bad night,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said on MSNBC. “I do think Democrats need to sharpen our message.”

The Republican majority in the Senate “appears likely to endure,” said the editors of the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball election predictor.

Michigan Democrats were struggling on Wednesday afternoon to retain incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, who trailed his opponent, businessman and Iraq War veteran John James. The race had not been called yet with about 96% of votes counted.

Democrats did manage to flip two Republican Senate seats, Cory Gardner’s in Colorado and Martha McSally’s in Arizona. But, as expected, they lost Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama. 

Gardner lost his reelection race to Democratic former Gov. John Hickenlooper and McSally lost to Democratic nominee Mark Kelly, who won nearly 53% of votes.

For Democrats to have any hope of taking control of the Senate, the party had needed to have a net gain of three or four seats.

But several vulnerable Senate Republicans were able to hang on, like Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, David Perdue of Georgia and Steve Daines of Montana.

Senate analysts at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report had predicted that Democrats were favored to take back the Senate with six Senate races labeled as “toss ups.” 

But “I have a very hard time right now seeing how Democrats win back the Senate,” Jessica Taylor, a Senate analyst with Cook Political Report, tweeted early Wednesday morning.

She added that for the Senate races to turn around for Democrats, the party would need to win the Collins seat in Maine and pick up one of two seats in Georgia.

Those hopes were soon dashed Wednesday afternoon, when Collins held a press conference to announce that Gideon had conceded. Collins is now expected to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby to lead the Senate Appropriations Committee as soon as 2022, when the Alabama Republican does not plan to run for reelection, if the GOP is in control.

As for Georgia, one race will have a special runoff election in January after Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote. The second Republican candidate, Doug Collins, conceded late Tuesday. 

Loeffler will face off again with Democratic nominee Raphael Warnock, who had a slim lead.

Georgia’s other race, between incumbent Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, has not been called yet, but Perdue currently has more than 50% percent of votes with 94% of votes reported. In Georgia’s Senate races, a candidate must win more than 50% of votes to avoid a runoff election. 

And some of these races were costly, with North Carolina the most expensive Senate race in history, skyrocketing to nearly $250 million including outside spending. 

Tillis, who narrowly won his race, said in his victory speech that he triumphed despite the odds.

“You’re down in the polls, there’s no chance of winning and I believed in every single one of you,” he said. “Every single one of you did — and if you think about the margin of victory tonight, doing our part to save the Senate — it happened because of the individual effort of thousands of people in North Carolina.” 

Women in the House

House incumbent Democratic women were also hit hard Tuesday night in an election that turned out to be much more favorable for GOP women.

Two incumbent Democrats in Miami, Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, lost their seats to Republicans. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma also lost their seats to two Republican women: Yvette Herrell and Stephanie Bice

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had said Tuesday night that she was confident Democrats were “poised to further strengthen our majority — the biggest, most diverse, most dynamic, women-led House majority in history.”

Instead, it was the GOP that added women — for example, when Nancy Mace beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. “We likely will have 14-19 additional women in our conference,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Republicans also added incoming members who embrace the baseless conspiracy group QAnon. Marjorie Taylor Greene won Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. Another candidate associated with QAnon, Lauren Boebert of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, won her race, which was called Wednesday morning.

While Democrats will keep their majority hold, they were not able to expand that control and Republicans were able to flip back some seats that Democrats originally flipped in 2018. Democrats currently hold 232 seats, while Republicans have 197. There is also one independent and five vacant seats.