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Democrats expect to keep control of House, though tight races abound

  • Suburban contests take center stage as Democrats seek to expand their majority and Republicans try to claw back seats

Results for U.S. House races trickled in Tuesday night with close contests in suburban areas and other battlegrounds still being counted as Democrats looked to expand their majority.

The Democratic Party was waiting Tuesday night to see if they could make inroads in districts that President Trump carried handily in 2016, while Republicans hoped to stave off Democrats in the suburbs. In one early development, several Republican women were elected in safe districts.

Control of the House is expected to stay in Democratic hands this election cycle, according to nonpartisan campaign watchers. Both parties said they didn’t expect final results Tuesday night and that the final House margin wouldn’t be known for days or weeks, with heavy mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic expected to complicate the counts.

It could take a week to know the outcome of tight races in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Utah and Pennsylvania, and even longer for close contests in New York, New Jersey, California and Alaska. In 2018, late wins in California expanded the initially narrow Democratic House majority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is expected to maintain control of the chamber. Should Democrats win control of the White House and Senate, she is preparing to act on health care, immigration and campaign finance overhauls.

“House Democrats are poised to further strengthen our majority—the biggest, most diverse, most dynamic women-led majority in history," Mrs. Pelosi told reporters Tuesday.

Republicans have sought to label Democrats running in tough districts—many running on moderate platforms—as liberals or socialists, hoping to win voters who oppose policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

They also are hopeful Trump voters will expand the GOP’s ranks in the House. “There were about 8 million Trump voters from 2016 who didn’t show up in 2018 because President Trump wasn’t on the ballot—that’s one of the reasons we lost the House," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) said on PBS on Tuesday. “If those eight million people, they’re going to vote for President Trump...that helps us win those seats back."

But Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and election strategy has dominated races. “No matter how bad the Democrats do, Donald Trump is like ‘Oh yeah, hold my beer,’" said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist and founding partner of the consulting firm Firehouse Strategies.

Democrats also have invested in winning state delegations. They have targeted races in Alaska, Montana, Pennsylvania and Michigan, among others. Republicans currently hold 26 state delegations, and Democrats control 23, with Pennsylvania tied.

Democrats currently hold 232 seats in the House, with 197 held by Republicans and one by a Libertarian. The Cook Political Report puts Democrats’ likely net gain at 10 to 15 seats, with a potential for more. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales predicted Democrats would win a net gain of 14 to 20 seats.

Many of the House elections are expected to be tied to the result of the presidential race in the district. The national WSJ/NBC News poll published Sunday showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading President Trump 52% to 42% among registered voters. Respondents preferred a Congress controlled by Democrats over Republicans by 48% to 43%.

Mr. Trump has said polls undercount his true support, pointing to his upset win in 2016.

Considered most at-risk on Tuesday are Republicans who managed to survive the blue shift that swept Democrats to power in the House two years ago when Democrats picked up 31 seats in districts previously won by Mr. Trump. Many of the suburban seats are in traditionally right-leaning metro areas that have become more diverse in recent years and where some voters have cooled on the president.

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner is in a tight race against Jill Schupp, a state senator, to hold her seat in the St. Louis suburbs, where Mr. Trump won by 10 percentage points in 2016. Some suburban voters—particularly women—turned away from Mr. Trump largely because of their concerns over his personality, rather than policy, said a Republican strategist who worked on races in the battleground areas.

In Kent County, Mich., both parties have their eyes on a seat held by retiring Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian. Republican Peter Meijer is facing off against Democratic Hillary Scholten. The district has been held by conservatives for decades, but residents say the area has changed.

Jennifer Gould, a 44-year-old Grand Rapids resident, said she voted for Ms. Scholten to add more Democrats to the House of Representatives.

“I just wanted to get as many Democrats back in the race as possible," said Ms. Gould, a paraprofessional educator. “We need people with a level head in office right now, and I do not think the Republican party is making good choices."

Sarah Buck, a retired 62-year-old Grand Rapids resident, said she voted for Mr. Meijer because his opponent’s policies were “too left-leaning."

“I’m really starting to get worried about Michigan going blue," Ms. Buck said.

The president’s loyal base made it hard for Republican candidates to distance themselves too much from him in those areas, said Doug Heye, a House Republican strategist. “You get no benefit of the doubt when you are critical of Trump, and Trump supporters think you are a traitor," when you criticize the president, he said.

Republicans are looking at areas where Democrats had surprise wins in 2018 that they hope to bring back to the red column.

In Oklahoma, Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn is facing off with Republican state legislator Stephanie Bice in a district Mr. Trump won by more than 13 percentage points in 2016. In rural New Mexico, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and GOP challenger Yvette Herrell are vying for control of a district that Mr. Trump won by about 10 percentage points.

Republicans also hope to topple Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, who has served in the House since 1991 and this year faces Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor for the state.

Democrats in tough races have benefited from having Mr. Biden at the top of the ticket, strategists said, as opposed to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who were top picks among the party’s more liberal wing.

“Biden made the job easier in these Trump districts than some of the other nominees would have because he is much more in line with swing Democrats on issues like health care and climate," said Meredith Kelly, a Democratic strategist who was part of the party’s efforts to win the House in 2018.

One exception came in the second presidential debate, when Mr. Biden talked about how he would “transition away from the oil industry." Reps. Horn and Torres-Small quickly distanced themselves from the comments.

Another factor that contributed to expanding the potential for Democrats in 2020 was fundraising. Many Democratic candidates outpaced their opponents in early fundraising, allowing them to advertise early. Outside Republican groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund—the House GOP super PAC—had to spend in tight races in Oklahoma, New York and Utah to introduce candidates who started their campaigns with little cash.

The House Democrats’ campaign arm raised over $300 million this election cycle, its chairwoman, Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, said Tuesday. Because of that, the party is spending in 11 districts held by Republicans that the president won by at least 10 points.

“You make your own luck going into any election. We made one-third of a billion dollars’ worth of luck," she said.

Ms. Bustos said that while many people expected Democrats this year to simply defend the House seats they won in the 2018 midterms, they have set their hopes on Democratic incursions into traditionally deep-red districts in Arkansas, Virginia and Texas, among others.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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