House Democrats fall way short in disappointing night

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report On The Money — Will the billionaire tax survive Joe Manchin? Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs 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 TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly 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 BustosInfrastructure bill carves out boosts to first responders, wildland firefighters Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms Two senior House Democrats to retire 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 WoodallDraft Georgia congressional lines target McBath, shore up Bourdeaux The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 MORE.

The spate of Democratic losses were not limited to any one geographic region. In rural Minnesota, Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 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 HornHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Why does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it 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 Cunningham'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Joe Cunningham to enter race for South Carolina governor 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-PowellDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida Nation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE and Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Pelosi, Schumer must appoint new commissioners to the CARES Act oversight panel 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 CurbeloA conservative's faith argument for supporting LGBTQ rights Lawmakers laud diversity gains in Congress Nation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits 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 FinkenauerDemocrat Mike Franken launches challenge to Grassley in Iowa Trump says Grassley has his 'complete and total endorsement' Grassley announces reelection bid MORE (Iowa), TJ Cox (Calif.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and Max RoseMax RoseMax Rose preparing for rematch with Nicole Malliotakis: report 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage 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.