GOP keeps Senate, House control as Democrats fall short

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans held onto their slim Senate majority, a stinging blow to Democrats in a night full of them. Democrats had been nearly certain of retaking control but saw their hopes fizzle as endangered GOP incumbents won in Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and even Democrat-friendly Wisconsin.

Republicans also held onto a GOP seat in Indiana. GOP-held New Hampshire remained too close to call on Wednesday morning, but even if Democrats eked out a win there it would not make a difference.

New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan declared victory in the Senate race Wednesday morning, but incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte refused to concede defeat. Hassan was fewer than 700 votes ahead in unofficial results.

Republicans started the night with a 54-46 majority in the Senate and were on track to end up with at least 52 seats, presuming they win a December runoff in Louisiana, as expected.

The outcome added to a debacle of a night for Democrats, who lost the presidency and faced being consigned to minority status on Capitol Hill for years to come.

Republicans celebrated their wins, already looking ahead to midterms in 2018 when Democrats could see their numbers reduced even further with a group of red-state Senate Democrats on the ballot.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky issued a statement congratulating the president-elect.

“After eight years of the Obama administration, the American people have chosen a new direction for our nation. President-elect Trump has a significant opportunity to bring our nation together,” McConnell said. “It is my hope and intent that we succeed in the years ahead by working together with our colleagues across the aisle to strengthen our national and economic security.”

Democratic operatives struggled to explain why their optimistic assessments of retaking Senate control were so mistaken. Some blamed unexpected turnout by certain segments of white voters, or FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell announcement that he was reviewing a new batch of emails connected with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In Pennsylvania, GOP Sen. Pat Toomey won a narrow victory for his second term over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty. It was a race Democrats expected to win going into the night — and one that many Republicans felt nearly as sure they’d lose.

The story was the same in Wisconsin, where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, written off for months by his own party, won re-election against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in a rematch.

In Missouri and North Carolina, where entrenched GOP incumbents Roy Blunt and Richard Burr faced unexpectedly strong challenges from Democrats, both prevailed in the end.

Democrats did grab a Republican-held seat in Illinois, where GOP Sen. Mark Kirk lost to Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee Iraq war vet. That stood as the one Democratic pickup.

The other bright spot for Democrats was in Nevada, where Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement after five terms created a vacancy and the one Democratic-held seat that was closely contested. Reid maneuvered to fill it with Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada’s former attorney general, who spoke of her family’s immigrant roots in a state with heavy Latino turnout.

Cortez Masto will become the first Latina U.S. senator. She beat Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who struggled with sharing the ticket with Donald Trump, first endorsing and then un-endorsing Trump to the disgust of some GOP voters.

Indeed the Senate races were shadowed every step of the way by the polarizing presidential race between Clinton and Trump. Yet in the end, Trump was not the drag on GOP candidates widely anticipated. Republicans like Johnson who endorsed him and stuck with him won re-election, as did others like Pennsylvania’s Toomey who never backed Trump until the very end. And so did a few like GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona who un-endorsed Trump after audio emerged of him boasting of groping women.

McCain, at age 80, won his sixth term in quite possibly his final campaign. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee was re-elected without much difficulty despite early predictions of a competitive race, and struck a reflective note ahead of the outcome.

“While as Yogi Berra said, ‘I hate to make predictions, especially about the future,’ I’m not sure how many more I have in me,” McCain said.

In Indiana, GOP Rep. Todd Young beat former Democratic senator and governor Evan Bayh, who mounted a much-ballyhooed comeback bid, but wilted under scrutiny. And in Florida, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio beat Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, giving Rubio a platform from which he could mount another bid for president in 2020.

In New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ leader-in-waiting for a new Congress, easily won re-election. But the results elsewhere meant he would be leading a Senate minority.

Even though the GOP’s renewed control of the Senate will be narrow, the advantages of being in the majority are significant. The controlling party sets the legislative agenda and runs investigations. First up is likely to be a nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Dems fall short as GOP wins 2 more years of House control

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans will command the House for two more years as they rode Donald Trump’s astounding White House triumph to victories in districts in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere that Democrats thought the GOP presidential candidate’s divisive campaign would drive their way.

“He turned politics on its head,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters gathered in the Republican’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan, who repeatedly drew ferocious criticism from Trump for spurning him during the campaign, credited the president-elect with helping carry Republicans into Congress and winning a mandate, and promised to work “hand-in-hand” with him on a GOP agenda.

Democrats had envisioned that voters’ repulsion by Trump comments about women and Hispanics could yield potentially big Election Day gains in suburban and ethnically diverse areas. Instead, they were on track for disappointingly modest pickups, likely fewer than 10, as the GOP swept to control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

That was well below the 30 seats Democrats needed to capture House control. Republicans currently hold a 247-188 majority, including three vacant seats, the most the GOP has had since their 270 in 1931.

By Wednesday, Republicans had at least 237 seats — guaranteeing control — and just six of their incumbents had lost. The GOP retained seats in Minnesota, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin that Democrats coveted as Republicans prepared to add to their six-year run of House control.

It was initially unclear what impact the marginally smaller size of the GOP majority would have on Ryan, who’d angered some Republican lawmakers by refusing to campaign for Trump.

While one member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus was defeated, several newly elected Republicans could bolster it. That would increase conservatives’ leverage to demand their way on issues like curbing spending and government regulations.

In Florida, freshman GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo won a race that underscored how Trump’s damage to Republicans would be limited. With around 7 in 10 of the Miami-area district’s voters Hispanic, Democrats targeted it and the race became one of the country’s most expensive with an $18 million price tag. But Curbelo distanced himself from his own party’s nominee and prevailed.

Virginia freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock kept her seat in the well-heeled Washington, D.C., suburbs despite Democrats’ attempts to lash her to Trump.

Democrats defeated two Florida GOP incumbents, but that seemed due to local circumstances.

Rep. John Mica, 73, a 12-term veteran from the Orlando area, was criticized by GOP strategists for a lackluster campaign and lost to Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a political neophyte. Democrat Charlie Crist, once the state’s Republican governor, defeated Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg district redrawn to favor Democrats.

Democrats spent $4 million to beat GOP Rep. Scott Garrett, a Freedom Caucus member from New Jersey’s New York City suburbs. Also defeated was Rep. Bob Dold, a GOP moderate from outside Chicago, Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy and Frank Guinta of New Hampshire.

Just one Democratic incumbent had lost by early Wednesday, Nebraska’s Brad Ashford.

Both parties’ candidates and outside groups spent nearly $1.1 billion combined on House campaigns, shy of the $1.2 billion record in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. Republicans had only a slight financial edge.

Even with the Ryan-led House GOP’s current formidable advantage, work has stalled this year on spending bills after hitting objections from conservatives.

Moving into 2017, Congress faces a fresh round of budget legislation plus the need to renew the government’s borrowing authority or face an economy-jarring federal default. Those are never easy to pass.

Ryan, 46, has said he wants to be speaker in the new Congress and has expressed confidence in doing so. But he is not immune to ire from the Freedom Caucus, which chased former Speaker John Boehner from Congress last year, and other Republicans upset over his frigid treatment of Trump.

Just a handful of disgruntled conservatives could possibly block Ryan from the 218 votes he’d need to retain his post. That would be an embarrassing setback for the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, who may harbor White House aspirations.