WASHINGTON — Democrats didn’t catch a blue wave. But they managed the next best thing: Divided government in the Trump era.
House Democrats won back the majority for the first time since the 2010 elections. Helped by President Donald Trump, Republicans captured Senate seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota to maintain a narrow advantage.
In the Great Lakes region, Democrats secured governors’ offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, complicating the president’s re-election campaign in an area that propelled him to victory in 2016. But Trump helped Republicans claim governors’ seats in Ohio and in Florida, where his hand-picked choice, Ron DeSantis, edged Andrew Gillum in the state’s high-profile governors’ race.
Tuesday’s midterm elections offered something for everyone. Democrats will control the House, but Trump will point to GOP success in the Senate as proof that he defied the odds and avoided the type of midterm wipeout that afflicted his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Yet Trump’s administration will now face intense scrutiny from House Democrats and a slew of subpoenas and document requests of his Cabinet — not to mention a renewed push for the president’s tax returns. And as special counsel Robert Mueller presses forward with the Russia investigation, the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus are expected to sound the alarm for the president’s impeachment.
Some takeaways from Tuesday’s election:
Democrats posted gains in House seats representing the nation’s suburbs, with many college-educated women turned off by Trump’s first two years. Republicans strengthened their grip on the country’s rural and exurban areas, helping them defeat red-state Senate Democrats. The results could lead to more standoffs in Congress — there’s already the possibility of a partial federal government shutdown in December over spending for Trump’s signature border wall. And the outcome will produce fewer moderate lawmakers who can straddle the divide. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, won re-election, but he will be the exception, not the norm.
Trump allies dealt major blows to three of the Democrats’ breakout stars of the 2018 cycle. Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. Gillum lost his bid to become Florida’s first black governor to DeSantis, whose public support from Trump propelled the former congressman to the top of the primary field. And Stacey Abrams’ campaign to become Georgia’s governor — and the nation’s first-ever black female governor — was trailing early Wednesday against Brian Kemp, who was also helped along by a critical Trump endorsement. Abrams declined to concede the race, pointing to votes that still needed to be counted and suggesting a likely runoff.
Trump has taunted the potential 2020 Democratic field as lacking any talent or the ability to give him a serious challenge. He will soon find out. Three potential candidates, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand, all won re-election to the Senate. Former Vice-President Joe Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey were among the most sought-after surrogates during the fall campaign. O’Rourke’s star power and massive fundraising haul generated chatter as a possible 2020 candidate — win or lose — but he said in the final days he wouldn’t run in 2020. Despite Trump’s dismissive approach, he will enter his re-election as an incumbent who lost the popular vote in 2016 and staring down key states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — now under Democratic control.
REBUILDING THE BLUE WALL?
After Trump won several Midwest states that had long been in the Democratic column, the party had hoped to rebuild its Midwest “blue wall.” Democrats made some progress, but just like the nature of the election, it was a split decision. Democrats picked up the governors’ offices in Michigan and Wisconsin and kept control in Pennsylvania. But Republicans won the governors’ races in Iowa and Ohio, giving Trump allies in two key presidential swing states. Remember, no Republican candidate for the presidency has ever won the election without winning Ohio.
After Hillary Clinton’s defeat, more women than ever before won major-party primaries for governor, the Senate and the House this year. Tuesday’s election produced a record number of women in the House and opened the door for women to hold state offices around the country. Democratic women like Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Cindy Axne of Iowa and Haley Stevens of Michigan helped the party flip Republican-held seats in the House. Republican Marsha Blackburn won an open Senate seat in Tennessee and the Midwest elected two female governors: Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican who won a full term after succeeding Terry Branstad, Trump’s ambassador to China, and Laura Kelly of Kansas, a Democrat who defeated Republican Kris Kobach. Women voted considerably more in favour of their congressional Democratic candidate — with fewer than 4 in 10 voting for the Republican, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
TRUMP THE CLOSER
Trump has long prided himself on the ability of his massive rallies to generate voter turnout and enthusiasm — and it paid off for him in the final days. The president staged rallies in five states — Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri — on the final two days of the campaign, helping his cause. In Georgia, Kemp was leading Abrams in the governor’s race but no winner had been declared. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn won an open Senate seat. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former senator, won the race for governor. In Indiana, businessman Mike Braun ousted Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. And Josh Hawley prevailed over Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, giving Republicans another Senate pickup.
The night served as witness to a number of history-making breakthroughs — steps that will help make Congress younger and more diverse. In New York, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Kristi Noem will become the first woman from South Dakota to serve as her state’s governor. The House will have two Native American women for the first time: New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’ Sharice Davids, who will also become her state’s first openly LGBT candidate to hold major office. And regardless of who wins in Arizona’s competitive Senate race, the state will elect its first woman to serve in the chamber.
Ken Thomas, The Associated Press