Dems fall short as GOP wins 2 more years of House control
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans will command the House for two more years as they rode Donald Trump's astounding White House triumph to victories in districts in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere that Democrats thought the GOP presidential candidate's divisive campaign would drive their way.
"He turned politics on its head," House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters gathered in the Republican's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan, who repeatedly drew ferocious criticism from Trump for spurning him during the campaign, credited the president-elect with helping carry Republicans into Congress and winning a mandate, and promised to work "hand-in-hand" with him on a GOP agenda.
Democrats had envisioned that voters' repulsion by Trump comments about women and Hispanics could yield potentially big Election Day gains in suburban and ethnically diverse areas. Instead, they were on track for disappointingly modest pickups, likely fewer than 10, as the GOP swept to control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
That was well below the 30 seats Democrats needed to capture House control. Republicans currently hold a 247-188 majority, including three vacant seats, the most the GOP has had since their 270 in 1931.
By Wednesday, Republicans had at least 237 seats — guaranteeing control — and just six of their incumbents had lost. The GOP retained seats in Minnesota, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin that Democrats coveted as Republicans prepared to add to their six-year run of House control.
It was initially unclear what impact the marginally smaller size of the GOP majority would have on Ryan, who'd angered some Republican lawmakers by refusing to campaign for Trump.
While one member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus was defeated, several newly elected Republicans could bolster it. That would increase conservatives' leverage to demand their way on issues like curbing spending and government regulations.
In Florida, freshman GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo won a race that underscored how Trump's damage to Republicans would be limited. With around 7 in 10 of the Miami-area district's voters Hispanic, Democrats targeted it and the race became one of the country's most expensive with an $18 million price tag. But Curbelo distanced himself from his own party's nominee and prevailed.
Virginia freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock kept her seat in the well-heeled Washington, D.C., suburbs despite Democrats' attempts to lash her to Trump.
Democrats defeated two Florida GOP incumbents, but that seemed due to local circumstances.
Rep. John Mica, 73, a 12-term veteran from the Orlando area, was criticized by GOP strategists for a lackluster campaign and lost to Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a political neophyte. Democrat Charlie Crist, once the state's Republican governor, defeated Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg district redrawn to favor Democrats.
Democrats spent $4 million to beat GOP Rep. Scott Garrett, a Freedom Caucus member from New Jersey's New York City suburbs. Also defeated was Rep. Bob Dold, a GOP moderate from outside Chicago, Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy and Frank Guinta of New Hampshire.
Just one Democratic incumbent had lost by early Wednesday, Nebraska's Brad Ashford.
Both parties' candidates and outside groups spent nearly $1.1 billion combined on House campaigns, shy of the $1.2 billion record in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. Republicans had only a slight financial edge.
Even with the Ryan-led House GOP's current formidable advantage, work has stalled this year on spending bills after hitting objections from conservatives.
Moving into 2017, Congress faces a fresh round of budget legislation plus the need to renew the government's borrowing authority or face an economy-jarring federal default. Those are never easy to pass.
Ryan, 46, has said he wants to be speaker in the new Congress and has expressed confidence in doing so. But he is not immune to ire from the Freedom Caucus, which chased former Speaker John Boehner from Congress last year, and other Republicans upset over his frigid treatment of Trump.
Just a handful of disgruntled conservatives could possibly block Ryan from the 218 votes he'd need to retain his post. That would be an embarrassing setback for the GOP's 2012 vice presidential candidate, who may harbor White House aspirations.