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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 2020 Election: Democrats can’t afford to ignore their Israel problem Hirono will donate salary earned during government shutdown MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (Mo.) all lost, while fellow Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida MORE (Fla.) trailed his GOP rival.

The GOP suffered its only Senate loss after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenInflux of women in Congress can improve women’s retirement security Overnight Health Care: DOJ seeks extension in ObamaCare lawsuit due to shutdown | Poll finds voters oppose court ruling against health law Press: White House not only for white males MORE (D) was projected to oust sitting Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R) in Nevada. 

But that Democratic victory could be neutralized by results in Montana, where sitting Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSome Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Immigration is pressure point for both sides in shutdown showdown 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 Cruz5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Republicans seek to temper fallout from latest Russia bombshells Cruz says Americans outside Beltway unconcerned with Mueller investigation 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 PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military 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 McConnellOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Mellman: Why does the GOP persist? Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight 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 BrownBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pro-Trump group doing opposition research on Sherrod Brown’s wife: report Press: White House not only for white males 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 CordraySupreme Court should do what Congress won’t: Rein in the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Congress must restrain power of new consumer financial director Five challenges facing new consumer bureau chief 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 Baldwin116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema swears in to Congress using copy of Constitution instead of religious book Dems say Trump is defying court order by pushing abstinence programs MORE (Wis.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyWHIP LIST: Who’s in and out in the 2020 race Senators' last-minute demands may delay funding bill Would-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits MORE Jr. (Pa.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Klobuchar dismisses mock campaign logo as something from 'very enthusiastic supporter' Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral MORE (Minn.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Dems raise concerns about shutdown's impact on assistance to taxpayers Durbin signals he will run for reelection Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee 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 Kavanaugh5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MSNBC anchor speculates Trump has something 'pretty extreme' on Graham Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing 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 DeSantisFlorida governor announces sheriff's suspension over Parkland shooting DeSantis asks entire South Florida water management board to resign Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions We can’t tackle climate change if we ignore the main polluter — transportation Hoyer introducing legislation to block Trump from lifting sanctions on Russian companies 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 CurbeloEx-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Hispanic Caucus boasts record membership in new Congress Chuck Todd says his show is 'not going to give time to climate deniers' MORE (R-Fla) and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGardner gets first Dem challenger for 2020 Senate race The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 10 things we learned from the midterms 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 ClintonGillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Former PepsiCo CEO being considered for World Bank chief post: report Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing 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.