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House Democrats fall way short in disappointing night

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) and her invigorated caucus charged into Tuesday with an energized base, a sharp fundraising advantage and hopes to flip anywhere from five to 15 Republican seats on election night. Instead, it was the Republicans who scored big — at least in the early counting — knocking out at least a half dozen vulnerable Democrats with several more clinging to the ropes.

It was a reversal of fortunes for the Democrats, who had led big in the polls and the money race and were betting that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE at the top of the ticket would be a drag on GOP lawmakers all the way down the ballot. With gushing optimism, Democrats were expecting Tuesday night would give them a chance to pad their 232-197 majority next year.

“We're well-positioned to have a good night,” Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine 'stuck in the past' MORE (Ill.), head of the Democrats’ campaign arm, told reporters hours before polls closed Tuesday.  

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As the sun came up Wednesday morning, however, there appeared few bright spots for Bustos’s party.

While Democrats will retain their majority, a handful of their front-line members — incumbents facing the toughest races — had been defeated. And after boasting about how they’d expanded the map and were playing “deep into Trump country,” they’d failed to pick off even a single House Republican running for reelection. Democrats did manage to pick up a pair of GOP-held open seats in North Carolina, where redistricting had made the districts much bluer, and a third in Georgia after the retirement of vulnerable GOP Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallMcCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results MORE.

The spate of Democratic losses were not limited to any one geographic region. In rural Minnesota, Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonA louder voice for women everywhere Former Minnesota Democratic leader quits party GOP sees path to House majority in 2022 MORE (D), a 15-term veteran and chairman of the Agriculture Committee, was clobbered by the state’s former lieutenant governor, who’d linked Peterson to the liberal Pelosi.  

In the suburbs of Oklahoma City, Rep. Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhat should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D), a first-term moderate, was defeated by Republican Stephanie Bice, a state senator, in one of the country’s most contested races. 

On New Mexico’s southern border, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D), a 36-year-old centrist also in her first term, fell to Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator, in a rematch of 2018. 

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And in South Carolina, first-term Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Bustos tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D) was ousted by state Rep. Nancy Mace (R).

An early surprise on election night — and early bad news for Democrats — was the defeat of two first-term Democrats in Florida’s Miami-Dade County: Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellThe Memo: Democrats see warning signs beyond 2020 Florida Democrat breaks down loss: 'It's not just about socialism' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE and Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet MORE, the former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton. Cuban Americans, a powerful voting bloc in South Florida, broke overwhelming for President Trump, helping to hand Republicans the Sunshine State and the pair of House seats. 

“Part of it is incorrect assumptions about how minority voters will perform based on previous elections. Democrats can no longer take Black and Latino voters for granted,” said former Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members House adjusts format for dinner with new members after criticism Former GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings MORE (R-Fla.), a Cuban American who previously represented one of the Miami seats.

Symbolic of the tough night suffered by the Democrats, even Bustos on Wednesday morning was trailing her GOP opponent, although plenty of absentee ballots remain to be counted and Democrats have cautioned the public not to jump to conclusions about race results before every vote has been tallied. Bustos hails from a largely rural district won by Trump in 2016, and the race was predicted to be close heading in. 

While votes were still being counted Wednesday morning in races around the country, an additional number of Democratic incumbents were trailing or locked in a tight races, including Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Incoming Iowa GOP lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (Iowa), TJ Cox (Calif.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and Max RoseMax RoseGOP sees path to House majority in 2022 Bickering Democrats return with divisions Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (N.Y.), a former Army Ranger representing Staten Island.

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House Republicans, long criticized for the small number of women in their ranks, picked up seats by running female candidates against Democratic incumbents. At least five GOP women will be part of the freshman class; Republicans had added just one woman in 2018.

The devastating night for Democrats is sure to prompt plenty of head scratching about their campaign strategy, including questions about the accuracy of their polling and decisions to go on the offensive in districts where Trump won handily, rather than dedicating resources to more moderate districts. 

It also presents a new dilemma for Pelosi, who’s expected to return as Speaker next year and was hoping to cushion her comfortable majority in preparation for what is expected to be a tough cycle for Democrats in 2022.