House Majority Leader-elect Steve Scalise, right, and Speaker-elect Kevin McCarthy will control the House after Republicans won 218 seats in midterm elections, topping 212 for Democrats. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republicans clinched a majority in the U.S. House on Wednesday night after a Republican won reelection to a California seat that put the GOP over the top, according to Associated Press projections.
Though not as decisive a victory as GOP leaders had hoped, Republican candidates flipped key seats in New York, Virginia, Oregon and Arizona — while benefiting from the once-a-decade redistricting process that allowed them to draw particularly favorable lines in Florida — and will control the chamber’s agenda in January.
A win for incumbent Mike Garcia over Democratic challenger Christy Smith in California clinched the 218 seats Republicans needed to form a majority. U.S. House Republicans already elected their slate of leaders for the 118th Congress on Tuesday, even though the party hadn’t yet secured the seats needed to take the majority.
Republicans’ majority is likely to be narrow, as Democrats lead in most of the yet-uncalled races.
Democrats had a stronger election on Nov. 8 than experts generally expected. They were projected to win 210 seats. In seven races, the AP had not yet made a call as of Wednesday night.
The Republican win means President Joe Biden will face a divided government after two years of governing with unified Democratic control.
In a statement, Biden congratulated Kevin McCarthy, the House member whom Republicans nominated Tuesday to be their candidate for speaker, and said he would work with Republicans.
Biden said the election results were a rejection of election deniers aligned with former President Donald Trump and a message that voters want Washington “to focus on the issues that matter to them and on making their lives better.”
“And I will work with anyone — Republican or Democrat — willing to work with me to deliver results for them,” he said.
If the Republican majority ends up within single digits, the margin would be because they came out favorably in redistricting and Democrats lacked similar power, said Dave Wasserman, a senior editor for U.S. House races at The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.
“If Republicans do end up with a single-digit majority, and they’re under 222 seats, then it will be entirely attributable to redistricting,” Wasserman said in a post-election media briefing last week.
Florida was the most severe partisan gerrymandering this cycle, but redrawn lines in Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio also helped the party pick up seats, Wasserman said.
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While Democratic gerrymanders in Nevada, New Mexico and Illinois held up, state laws in larger blue states — California and New York — cost Democrats “probably a dozen seats that they could have drawn for themselves.”
Even with a larger majority, House Republicans’ agenda would have been difficult to enact. President Joe Biden vowed in recent days to veto legislation at odds with his accomplishments, and Democrats will remain in control of the U.S. Senate.
Republicans’ path to victory went primarily through New York, where they won all five races in the state that The Cook Political Report rated as toss-ups.
Other key seats Republicans flipped included:
- Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, a Norfolk-area seat where state Sen. Jen A. Kiggans defeated two-term incumbent Elaine Luria.
- Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent Democrat Tom O’Halleran faced a difficult path after the district was redrawn to favor Republicans. Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane defeated O’Halleran.
- Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, where state Sen. Zach Nunn defeated incumbent Cindy Axne by less than 1 percentage point.
- Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, where moderate longtime U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader lost his Democratic primary
Republicans also benefited from new congressional maps, especially in Florida, which went from a 16-11 advantage for Republicans to a 20-8 margin, the Florida Phoenix reported.
But outside of New York, Democrats won most races rated as toss-ups.
Key competitive races Democrats won included:
- Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, a seat the retiring Peter DeFazio held for 36 years. State Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle will replace him after defeating Republican Alex Skarlatos.
- Nevada’s 1st Congressional District in the Las Vegas area, where incumbent Dina Titus defeated challenger Mark Robertson.
- New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, where Gabriel Vasquez upset incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell.
Democrats also won seats in newly created districts in Colorado and Oregon.
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