Disappointed Democrats are driving towards extending their control of the House of Representatives for two more years but with a potentially shrunken majority as they lost at least seven incumbents and failed to oust any Republican legislators in initial returns.
By mid-morning on Wednesday, Democrats’ only gains were two North Carolina seats vacated by Republican incumbents after a court-ordered remapping made the districts more Democratic.
Though they seemed likely to retain House control, their performance was an unexpected disappointment for the party, which hoped for modest gains of perhaps 15 seats.
After decades of trying, Republicans defeated 15-term member Collin Peterson from a rural Minnesota district that backed Donald Trump in 2016 by 31 percentage points, the president’s biggest margin in any Democratic-held district.
Mr Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, opposed Mr Trump’s impeachment and is one of the House’s most conservative Democrats. He was defeated by Republican Michelle Fischbach, the former lieutenant governor.
In Iowa, Republican Ashley Hinson defeated freshman Democratic incumbent Abby Finkenauer to win a hard-fought race for the state’s north-eastern congressional seat. Ms Hinson is a former television news anchor.
Also losing were freshmen Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, health secretary under president Bill Clinton, in adjacent south Florida districts where Mr Trump seemed to consolidate support among Cuban voters.
Others defeated were Democratic freshmen Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma, who had surprising victories in 2018 in districts Mr Trump carried decisively in 2016.
The fight for Ms Torres Small’s seat cost around 35 million dollars, making it one of the country’s most expensive races, according to the non-partisan Centre for Responsive Politics. She was defeated by Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator.
Before votes were counted, both parties said the Republicans would be fortunate to limit Democratic gains to a modest single digits. Democrats control the House 232-197, with five open seats and one independent. It takes 218 seats to control the chamber.
A smaller Democratic majority would make it tougher for House speaker Nancy Pelosi to unite her legislators as a handful of progressive freshmen arrive for the new Congress.
By retaining House control, Democrats would mark only the second time in a quarter of a century that they had led the chamber for two consecutive two-year Congresses.