Midterms: The winners and losers

Tuesday was the most anticipated, most hyped — and likely most-watched — midterm election of modern times.

The reason was simple: It was widely seen as a referendum on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE.

Yet the verdict is far from clear as the dust begins to settle.

Tuesday was an election night where the biggest figures on each side were not clear-cut winners or losers.

MIXED

President Trump

The bottom line: The president’s party lost its majority in the House of Representatives. 

That is a hugely significant development. It's not just a wound to political pride. It brings with it the specter of ongoing turmoil.

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Democrats will now take over House committees and, crucially, gain the ability to subpoena whomever they wish. That could spell real trouble for Trump, his administration and even his business associates.

But it could have been much, much worse.

Democrats will likely gain about 35 seats in the House, though results are not yet final. That is squarely in line with historic norms for a president’s party in his first midterms. 

In President Obama’s first midterms, in 2010, Democrats endured a disastrous night, losing 63 seats. In 1994, President Clinton saw his party lose 54 seats.

Just as importantly, Republicans exceeded expectations in the Senate, sweeping at least three Democrats out of the upper chamber. Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (Mo.) all lost, while fellow Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE (Fla.) trailed his GOP rival.

The GOP suffered its only Senate loss after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM MORE (D) was projected to oust sitting Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R) in Nevada. 

But that Democratic victory could be neutralized by results in Montana, where sitting Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (D) had fallen slightly behind GOP challenger Matt Rosendale in the early hours of Wednesday.

Trump will undoubtedly claim the GOP’s strong Senate performance as a vindication. 

The president’s rallies in the final days of the campaign saw him make two visits each to Indiana, Missouri and Florida, three of the states where the GOP notched its best results. 

As results were still coming in, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “So far, most of the races where the president has gone in, those candidates are doing extremely well.”

The full ramifications of the loss of the House may take some time to be felt in the Oval Office. 

But for now, the president will focus on some sizable silver linings.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

O’Rourke was unquestionably the breakout liberal star of the midterm cycle. 

His bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump removes sanctions waivers on countries buying oil from Iran The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? Buttigieg steals Beto's thunder MORE (R-Texas) captured the imagination of liberals far beyond the Lone Star State — and garnered acres of positive media coverage. 

O’Rourke raised an astronomical sum of $38.1 million in the third quarter — a figure that had never been equaled in any Senate race.

But he still lost, in the end. 

Cruz was projected the winner at around 10:20 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday night. Early Wednesday, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, his lead was about 3 percentage points.

O’Rourke’s charisma and perceived authenticity ensure that he will retain a fervent following. And he can fairly point to the huge inroads that he made — Cruz had won by 15 points in 2012.

But a loss is still a loss. If O’Rourke has further political ambitions — and there is avid speculation that he could run for president — he will have to pursue them without any platform in elected office.

WINNERS

House Democrats

It was a strong night for Democrats in the House. The result is in line with expectations — not a blowout victory but not a squeaker either. 

At 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, The New York Times was projecting a Democratic popular vote margin of more than 7 percentage points and a 23-seat majority.

The Democrats will get back the Speakership — probably, but not definitely, for current Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Moulton enters 2020 White House race Trump takes aim at Dem talk of impeachment MORE (D-Calif). 

They will be able to block most of the president’s domestic agenda. They can also launch impeachment proceedings against Trump if they wish — though there is notably less enthusiasm for that tactic among party leaders than among grass-roots supporters.

It’s a result that will change the whole dynamic of Capitol Hill — and expose Trump to the kind of scrutiny he has never faced before.

Senate Republicans

Realistically, the night could not have gone much better for the GOP in the Senate. With two competitive races still outstanding — in Arizona and Montana — they have netted somewhere between two and four seats.

Two would be a solid showing. Four would be at the high end of Republican expectations.

Republicans also turned back Democratic challenges adroitly in the couple of states where the opposition party held out some hope of success. 

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In addition to Cruz’s victory, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Lawmakers weigh challenges in fighting robocalls Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R) easily defeated Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen, a former governor, in Tennessee.

It’s enough to put a wider smile on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE’s (R-Ky.) face. Trump and McConnell spoke on the phone to congratulate each other on the night’s successes.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio)

Brown, an often overlooked figure, proved his political appeal once again on Tuesday.

He won reelection by more than 6 points in Ohio — a state that President Trump had carried by 9 points in 2016. Brown’s achievement was all the more notable because his party’s candidate for governor, Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayThe road to the White House still goes through Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan announces presidential run Sherrod Brown says he will not run for president MORE, was comfortably defeated by Republican Mike DeWine.

Brown was part of a bigger picture where Democratic senators in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest had a much better time than many of their colleagues. 

Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts MORE (Wis.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyLicense to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE Jr. (Pa.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' MORE (Minn.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE (Mich.) all won reelection comfortably. Trump carried all of their states, with the exception of Minnesota, in 2016.

But Brown is farther to the left than his Rust Belt colleagues, which makes his success all the more intriguing.

The ease of his victory will fuel speculation about a 2020 White House run by the Ohioan.

Conservative justices

Republican gains in the Senate make the process of confirming conservative justices significantly easier. 

It also seems clear that the controversy over the confirmation of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughJuan Williams: Buttigieg already making history Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Fight over census citizenship question hits Supreme Court MORE to the Supreme Court energized voters on the right just as much as the left.

LOSERS

‘The Blue Wave’

The idea that there was going to be a sweeping repudiation of Trump, ousting Republicans from seats in supposedly safe GOP districts, just didn’t materialize.

That’s not to minimize the importance, symbolically and substantively, of the Democrats winning control of the House.

But if anyone on the left still believed that Trump’s 2016 victory was a fluke, or that he would be easily beaten in 2020, voters discharged a warning shot on Tuesday.

Andrew Gillum

Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Florida, was heralded as an emblem of the future of the party — young, black, progressive and, apparently, electorally magnetic.

Polls showed the Tallahassee mayor as the favorite over Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Workers find 27 possible graves near Florida's oldest reform school Trump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report MORE, a strongly pro-Trump former congressman, going into Election Day. But the Sunshine State delivered another surprise.

It was a crushing loss for Gillum and for the activists who had rallied to his cause.

Deepening the Democratic gloom, Gillum’s party colleague in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, was also behind in her race for governor, which had been dogged by allegations of malfeasance by her opponent Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in his current post as Georgia’s secretary of state.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (D-N.Y.)

Scrutiny will inevitably fall on Schumer given Democrats’ disappointing night in the Senate.

His allies will argue that is unfair, given the unforgiving nature of the battleground this year for Democrats. To be sure, it is not clear what alternative strategy Democrats could have adopted that would have delivered better results.

Still, Schumer would have hoped to limit losses on Tuesday to maximize his chances of finally becoming majority leader after the 2020 elections, when the map is more favorable for his party.

That task just became much harder.

The GOP’s Trump critics

Most Republican lawmakers have bound themselves tightly to the president but some members who were fighting for reelection in competitive districts dissented.

Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure Ex-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group MORE (R-Fla) and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard Coffman20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Denver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Colo.) were two notable examples. Both criticized the White House, particularly for its immigration policies.

Maybe they had no choice. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIt is wrong to say 'no collusion' 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE carried Curbelo’s heavily Hispanic district by 16 points in 2016 and Coffman’s by 9 points.

But despite their attempts to keep their distance from the president, the two lawmakers lost anyways — heavily, in Coffman’s case.

Separately, “Never Trump” critics within the GOP have long predicted that the president will doom his party. 

Tuesday’s mixed bag of results makes him seem less like a ticking time bomb than his GOP critics believe.