WASHINGTON—Republicans retained their lock on the House for two more years early Wednesday as GOP candidates triumphed in a checkerboard of districts in Florida, Virginia and Colorado that Democrats had hoped Donald Trump’s divisive comments about women and Hispanics would make their own.
Democrats who’d envisioned potentially big gains in suburban and ethnically diverse districts instead were on track for disappointingly modest pickups. Republican contenders were buoyed by Trump’s surprising victory in his White House bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton and appeal to white working-class voters.
Expectations had been low that Democrats would win the 30 seats they’d needed to capture House control. But both sides had anticipated they’d cut the historic GOP majority by perhaps a dozen seats, which now seemed unlikely. Republicans currently hold a 247-188 majority, including three vacant seats, the most the GOP has commanded since their 270 in 1931.
By Wednesday morning, Republicans had at least 233 seats — guaranteeing control — and just five of their incumbents had lost. The GOP retained seats in Minnesota, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin that Democrats coveted, and Republicans prepared to build on their six-year run of House control.
“This could be a really good night for America,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who won a 10th term, told supporters back in Janesville, Wisconsin.
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 Washington, D.C., suburbs despite Democrats’ attempts to lash her to Trump. The two sides spent more than $20 million in a district of highly educated, affluent voters that both sides had viewed as vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.
GOP Rep. Mike Coffman was re-elected outside Denver in another costly race.
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 and 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, and Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy.
No Democratic incumbent had lost by early Wednesday.
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.