Five midterm surprises in the House

Democrats performed better than expected in key battleground House races during Tuesday’s midterms, even as results continued to trickle in, warding off fears of a red wave.  

Vulnerable Democratic incumbents fended off challenges in states like Virginia and Texas, while the party was dealt some blows, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney’s loss in New York’s 17th Congressional District. Meanwhile, the night offered some unwelcome surprises for Republican incumbents like Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio), who unexpectedly lost his district. 

Here’s a look at five ways in which the midterms surprised in the battle for the House. 

Democratic incumbents stave off challenges  

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.)

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) defeated Republican opponent Yesli Vega in one of the most watched House races of the midterm cycle. (Greg Nash)

Tuesday’s midterms showcased Democratic incumbents who prevailed in competitive House reelection bids in states like Virginia, Indiana and Michigan. 

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) won a third term in the House after she beat Republican Yesli Vega in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, a seat that was slightly more friendly toward Democrats this cycle but was a majority-new district for Spanberger.

Over in Michigan, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) also secured a third term after winning the state’s 7th Congressional District against Republican Tom Barrett. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) notably endorsed Slotkin, while Rep.-elect Harriet Hageman, who defeated Cheney in the Wyoming GOP primary, and former Vice President Mike Pence backed Barrett.  

Reps. Chris Pappas (D), of New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, and Frank Mrvan (D), of Indiana’s 1st Congressional District, also notched reelection wins in two other toss-up races. 

House margin narrower than expected  

Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) addresses reporters during a press event outside the Capitol Steps on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 after being sworn in. She’s the first Mexican-born member to serve in the House.

Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) lost her reelection race in one of a number of letdowns for Republicans. (Greg Nash)

While Republicans projected confidence ahead of Tuesday that they would see a red wave in the House as recent polls showed races tightening and the issue of inflation ever-present on voters’ minds, the election results showed a much narrower-than-expected margin. 

 One of the first signs of Republicans’ woes was Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, which was seen as one their best opportunities to flip a House seat. While recent polling had shown Republican Allan Fung outperforming Seth Magaziner (D), the Democrat ultimately prevailed in the race, which was only called around 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday. A Republican win would have been impressive, given the district went for President Biden by double digits under the new congressional lines and had been represented by Rep. Jim Langevin (D) more than two decades. 

While House races are still being called, Republicans were also unable to prevail in a number of toss-up races that would have given their party an edge in the lower chamber, including among sitting incumbents like Rep. Mayra Flores in Texas and Ohio’s Chabot. 

Democrats had a good night in South Texas  

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), who defeated his Republican opponent Tuesday, took heat from Democrats during the primary for his anti-abortion views and voting against a major gun bill. (Greg Nash)

The party also enjoyed several wins in South Texas as two of its most vulnerable incumbents — Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D) and Henry Cuellar (D) — fended off challenges from Republicans.  

Cuellar, a centrist whom progressives wanted to see defeated in the primary against Jessica Cisneros, won the state’s 28th Congressional District against Republican Cassy Garcia. Democratic leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), took heat from progressives for backing Cuellar during the primary, given his anti-abortion views and his vote against a major gun bill, though it ultimately paid off for Democrats. 

Meanwhile, Gonzalez prevailed in Texas’s 34th Congressional District against Flores, who had flipped the seat red during a special election in June. Flores’s loss is a major blow to Republicans, who believed they were making inroads in that part of the state, though the new 34th District was drawn more favorably to Democrats than the old House seat was. 

Toss-up races tilt in Democrats’ favor  

Democrat Wiley Nickel prevailed in his race against former college football player Bo Hines (R) for the North Carolina House seat left vacant by Rep. Ted Budd (R). (Associated Press)

Democrats also outperformed expectations in toss-up races that featured nonincumbents. In addition to Magaziner’s win in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Wiley Nickel, a criminal defense attorney, defeated former college football player Bo Hines (R) in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. Nickel and Hines were vying for Rep. Ted Budd’s (R) old seat, which gave Republicans less of an edge after redistricting. 

 Over in Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, which was left open after Rep. Conor Lamb (D) decided to forgo another House bid to run for Senate, voting rights attorney and Iraq War veteran Chris Deluzio (D) won against Jeremy Shaffer (R), the former Ross Township commissioner.  

Unexpected danger for notable incumbents  

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) during a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D) loss in New York marks the first time in decades that a chairman of either party’s campaign arm has been ousted. (Associated Press)

Democrats and Republicans alike faced some bruising losses, though this November’s midterms targeted several incumbents who were presumed to be safe in their races.  

On the Republican side, Chabot, who had served in the House on and off again for more than 20 years, suffered a blow after he lost Ohio’s 1st Congressional District to Democrat Greg Landsman. Redistricting had made Chabot’s district less Republican-friendly. 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Maloney, the chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, lost his race for the state’s 17th Congressional District against Republican Mike Lawler. While Maloney’s race had tightened in recent weeks, it had been decades since a general election saw a chairman of either party’s campaign arm ousted. Some Democrats saw Maloney’s defeat as karma given that he had decided to run in the 17th Congressional District rather than the one he currently represents, the 18th, and forced another House Democrat to run elsewhere to avoid an awkward member-on-member primary. 

Tags 2022 midterm elections Abigail Spanberger Chris Pappas Conor Lamb Elissa Slotkin Frank Mrvan Harriet Hageman Henry Cuellar Indiana James Clyburn Jim Langevin Liz Cheney Michigan Mike Pence Nancy Pelosi New Hampshire North Carolina Ohio Pennsylvania Rhode Island Sean Patrick Maloney Seth Magaziner Steve Chabot Ted Budd Vicente Gonzalez Virginia

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