Republicans Keep Hold of U.S. House Amid Broader Party Surge

  • Democratic flips of Republican seats fall short of predictions
  • ‘This could be a good night for us,’ Speaker Ryan says

Republicans on Tuesday clinched control of the U.S. House in stronger fashion than expected, giving the party the power to either boost Donald Trump’s platform or block Hillary Clinton’s legislative agenda.

Democrats’ hopes to cut significantly into the Republicans’ 60-member advantage by flipping as many as 20 seats were falling well short, with only a few competitive races yet to be decided. The GOP currently controls the House 246-186, with three vacancies.

"This could be a good night for us. Fingers crossed!" Speaker Paul Ryan said at a victory event in Wisconsin.

Democrats cast around for excuses even before the results started to come in Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained to reporters that FBI Director James Comey’s letter days before the election informing Congress about a new review of Clinton-related e-mails was like "a Molotov cocktail just thrown into a very explosive arena."

Pelosi repeated the sentiment later Tuesday, saying on PBS that Comey’s actions had a "tremendous impact" not just on the presidential race, but on "down-ballot" Democrats, including House candidates.

Larger Republican losses in the chamber had been seen by both parties as inevitable over much of the past year. Two years ago, the party won 247 seats, its largest number since 1928.

That also meant Republican resources would be stretched to defend all of those seats in a presidential election year, when more voters are motivated to go to the polls. Republicans largely did that successfully Tuesday, in greater numbers than expected.

Republican incumbents in Florida were ousted, including former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica and David Jolly, who was defeated by party-switching former Governor Charlie Crist.

Also falling in the Republican ranks were Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey, a senior member of the Financial Services Committee who chairs the subcommittee on capital markets and government-sponsored enterprises, and Representative Bob Dold of Illinois, who lost to Democratic ex-Representative Brad Schneider in their third consecutive match-up.

But Republicans registered a pickup in an open race for a Florida seat now held by a Democrat, Patrick Murphy, who was defeated in a Senate bid against Senator Marco Rubio. Murphy’s House seat was won by Brian Mast, a military veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan.

Republicans also held seats in open races where incumbents weren’t running for re-election, including in Indiana and upstate New York.

Other contests for seats now held by Republicans were still too close or too early to call, including those in California and Nevada.

Ryan will likely win credit from many Republicans for helping them to run campaigns that kept some strategic distance from Trump, even as many likely benefited from Trump-fueled turnout. Even so, Ryan -- the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who became speaker a year ago after conservatives pushed Speaker John Boehner out of office -- could still see his own leadership under question for his less-than-full-throated support of Trump.

The speaker did energetically campaign and raise money for his House colleagues, even as some Republicans publicly complained of the potential harm they saw for GOP candidates from Ryan’s tepid backing of the presidential nominee. In the final days of the campaign, he started campaigning more explicitly for Trump.

How Tuesday’s results will play out for Ryan’s own future could start to unfold quickly. House Republican leaders scheduled a day-after-election conference call for members on Wednesday. Internal party discussions and preliminary leadership elections are planned in the next week.

Meanwhile, the question of whether Democrats will voice any disappointment toward Pelosi and her team for fewer-than-hoped-for House gains could also play out in her party’s own internal meetings and leadership elections in the coming weeks.

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