As the nation awaits final presidential election results, Congress slowly takes shape
WASHINGTON (CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE) — With all eyes on a closely-contested presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, many Americans may be overlooking the state of the battle for the Congress.
“I think we all know that how the top of the ticket does will reflect on the likely outcomes and scenarios for the Senate and the House,” Sarah Walker, acting director of state and federal affairs for Secure Democracy, told Capital News Service.
While there was no final call yet Thursday on who the next occupant of the Oval Office will be, in other key races the GOP was effectively defending its control of the Senate while Democratic Party hopes to greatly expand its House majority appeared to be fading.
The Democrats needed to flip four Republican Senate seats to regain control of the chamber after six years, but, as of noon Thursday, they had only managed to do so in two states and the GOP even managed to flip a Democratic seat.
As of Thursday the control of the Senate was even at 47, and it ultimately may come down to one — and possibly two — runoff elections in Georgia in January.
Democrats Mark Kelly of Arizona and John Hickenlooper of Colorado ousted Republican incumbents Sen. Martha McSally and Sen. Cory Gardner, respectively. However in Alabama, Republican Tommy Tuberville unseated the Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones by a considerable margin.
Despite bringing in $57 million in campaign donations in the final quarter, Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison was unable to defeat incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.
Similarly, in Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon repeatedly led polls and out-raised her opponent by $31 million in the third quarter, but Republican Sen. Susan Collins won reelection.
Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa also held on to her seat, after defeating Democrat Theresa Greenfield by a comfortable margin.
Greenfield followed the Biden campaign’s lead by holding smaller in-person rallies, according to Timothy Hagle, professor of American Politics at the University of Iowa. This worked against her in an attempt to unseat Ernst, he told CNS.
“In Iowa, we like to see our candidates in person,” Hagle said. “That’s partly because of the tradition of the caucuses, but it’s also something that’s fairly regular in smaller states. As the incumbent, Ernst has had six years to get to know the communities in the state.”
At least one of Georgia’s two Senate races will advance to a runoff election in January, pitting Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock against incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who beat third-place Republican candidate Doug Collins.
With ballots still being counted in the Peach State, it appeared possible as of Thursday that incumbent Republican Sen. David Purdue could also be forced into a runoff against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff if neither breaks 50 percent of the total votes cast.
Whether it is one or two contests in Georgia, the parties are expected to raise tens of millions of dollars in the high-stakes fight over Senate control.
While Democrats hoped to expand their hold and recreate the 2018 surge in which they flipped the House, they only managed to take away two GOP seats, while Republicans added eight. However, ballot-counting continued Thursday and control of the chamber still favors Democrats 209-190.
Adam Rapfogel, who works on polling for Democrats as an associate at Global Strategy Group, said the results did not indicate a turnout problem for Democrats.
“It seems to me it’s a persuasion issue,” Rapfogel said, noting that Democratic margins in Florida’s Miami-Dade County and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas showed Republicans had been able to make inroads with different kinds of Latino voters.
“The Trump campaign spent some money well and turned down the racism on immigration towards the end,” Rapfogel said.
Such shifts towards Republicans in some cities and suburbs could make it harder for the Democratic Party to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives in 2022 or 2024, according to Rapfogel.
Five Republican incumbents — Rep. French Hill of Arkansas’s 2nd District, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio’s 1st District, Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri’s 2nd District, Rep. Donald Bacon of Nebraska’s 2nd District and Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana’s 5th District — will hold on to their once-endangered seats after beating their Democratic opponents.
Texas' 23rd District, a predominantly Hispanic district in the southwest region of the state that includes parts of San Antonio, will continue to be held by the GOP after Republican newcomer Tony Gonzales beat Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones by a slim margin. Jones also lost in a close race in 2018 to Rep. William Hurd, who did not seek reelection.
While the party split in both chambers may end up relatively the same, the 117th Congress will be more diverse on both sides of the aisle.
Republican Madison Cawthorn, 25, will soon replace New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest member of Congress after winning North Carolina’s western 11th District.
Missouri chose Democrat Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist, as its first Black congresswoman to represent its 1st District, which includes St. Louis. She is also the first nurse and single mother to represent the state in Congress, Bush said in a victory speech Tuesday.
In New Mexico, voters elected Republican Yvette Herrell and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez, along with Democratic incumbent Rep. Deb Haaland, to become the first state to be represented in the House entirely by women of color.
After landmark firsts on Tuesday, only three states remain that do not have any LGBTQ+ representation in their legislatures: Alaska, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to Out Magazine.
Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, Democrats from New York, will both be the first openly gay Black men in Congress. They will represent the South Bronx as well as the suburbs north of New York City and parts of Westchester County, respectively. Torres will be the first openly gay Afro-Latino member.
Similarly, Democrat Torrey Harris of Memphis, and Republican Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, will join the Tennessee legislature as the first openly LGBTQ+ lawmakers in that state’s history.
In Oklahoma, Democrat Mauree Turner will become the nation’s first non-binary state legislator as well as the state’s first Muslim lawmaker. Although Oklahoma is a deeply Republican state, it’s 88th House District, where Turner won, includes Oklahoma City and leans Democratic. Turner uses both they and she pronouns, according to their Twitter profile.
In Kansas, Stephanie Byers became the first Native American transgender state lawmaker, while Sarah McBride’s victory in Delaware made her the first openly transgender state senator in the United States.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, where McBride was a former spokesperson, said in a statement that she brings the “kind of leadership that our nation urgently needs.”
But McBride, in a celebratory tweet Tuesday night, focused on the bigger picture: “I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too.”
Despite a major pandemic, the election broke many voter turnout records and led to some of the changes in Congress, Secure Democracy’s Walker told CNS.
“We saw voters overwhelmingly choose new leaders to move us forward together toward a better future,” she said. “The people of America did not let anything get in the way of voting, and I believe they will not let anything get in the way of our votes being counted.”
In other notable decisions across the country, Colorado voters rejected prohibiting abortions after the 22-week mark of pregnancy, while Louisiana will add language to the state constitution that it does not provide protections against abortion restrictions.
Legalized recreational use of marijuana was also adopted through similar referendums in four states — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota — bringing the total to 15 states.
Additionally, the District of Columbia voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, while Oregon became the first state to decriminalize hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
In California, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors - for the first time since the powerful board was created more than 150 years ago - will be composed entirely of women.
Capital News Service Washington reporter Aneurin Canham-Clyne contributed to this story.