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9 November 2016

What do the Senate and House of Representatives results mean for a Democrat fightback?

The Democratic party failed to gain the balance of power in the Senate, as Congress remained firmly in Republican control.

By jonathan Jones

For those of us devastated by Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential race, there weren’t any real crumbs of comfort in America’s other election results last night. The Republicans held onto their majorities in Congress – albeit narrowed slightly – and emerged with an even larger majority of the nation’s Governors.

The Democrats did gain the Senate seat in Illinois, where Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth beat incumbent Mark Kirk by 14 percentage points. They also held the seat vacated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Catherine Cortez Masto will become the first female Hispanic Senator in US history, after beating Republican Joe Heck by 2 points in the only swing state where Hillary Clinton beat the polls. And there’s still a chance that Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan can defeat New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, although she trails by about 1,500 votes with 95 per cent of precincts reporting.

Meanwhile, Katie McGinty lost by around 2 points to Republican incumbent Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania – a slightly larger margin than the one by which Trump beat Clinton in the state. Neither Jason Kander in Missouri nor Deborah Ross in North Carolina managed to beat the Republican incumbents, while former Senator Evan Bayh – who started out with a 20-point lead in the summer – lost to Todd Young in Indiana.

Most surprisingly, former Senator Russ Feingold failed to convert his 3-point poll lead in Wisconsin into victory, instead losing to Republican incumbent Ron Johnson by 3 points.

If Hassan does win in New Hampshire, the Democrats will go from 46 seats in the Senate now to 48 in January (including the two held by independents who caucus with the Democrats). Whether the Democrats end up on 47 or 48, Republicans will retain their majority, although they’ll be well short of the 60 Senators they’d need to break a filibuster.

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Of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives – all of which were up for election – just 11 have switched parties at the time of writing, while six remain too close to call and one, in Louisiana, will go to a run-off next month.

The Democrats have taken nine seats off the Republicans, but the Republicans have gained two. Of the seven still to be determined, three were held by Democrats and four by Republicans. So the Democrats will increase their presence in the House, but only by between four and 11 seats, from 188 after the 2014 election to between 192 and 199. They’ll still be short of the 218 needed for a majority.

That means the Republican Party will control the White House and both chambers of Congress, as they did between 2003 and 2007. The Democrats will, of course, attempt to overturn the Republican majority in the House at the 2018 midterms, as they did in the middle of George W Bush’s second term in 2006, and as the Republicans did to them halfway through President Obama’s first term in 2010.

Taking control of the Senate away from the Republicans looks much harder, though. The 33 seats up for election in 2018 were last contested in 2012 – a very good year for Democrats. As a result, they’ll be defending 25 seats while the Republicans will only be defending eight. And only one of those eight Republican seats is in a state Clinton won this time – Nevada – and their next best opportunity looks like Arizona, which Clinton lost by 4 points. It’ll probably be very tough to gain the net three or four seats they’ll need for a majority.

Away from the battle for control in Washington DC, Republicans took governorships off Democrats in Missouri, New Hampshire and Vermont. In Montana, incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock currently leads by just over 5,000 votes with about 90 per cent reporting, so might be able to hold on. And the Democrats have the chance of taking control of the Governor’s mansion in North Carolina, where Roy Cooper currently leads Republican incumbent Pat McCrory by just under 5,000 votes with 99 per cent in.

In the battle of coal versus Cole in coal country, coal billionaire Jim Justice managed to hold the West Virginia governorship for the Democrats against Republican Bill Cole.

That’ll leave the Republicans with between 33 and 35 of the nation’s 50 Governors. 14 to 16 will be Democrats, and one is an independent. When Obama became President in 2009, Democrats had 29 Governors to the Republicans’ 21.

None of these races is as big an upset – in both senses of the word – as the presidential election. But very little went right for Democrats last night, leaving Republicans in a strong position, both in Congress and in state capitals across the country.