GOP limits losses, nears 2 more years of House control

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. waves to supporters at a campaign rally in Janesville, Wis., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. waves to supporters at a campaign rally in Janesville, Wis., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans were on track to secure two more years of House control Tuesday, as GOP lawmakers triumphed in districts in Florida and Virginia that Democrats had hoped Donald Trump’s divisive comments would make their own.

Democrats defeated two Florida GOP incumbents, but their prospects for putting a big dent in House Republicans’ historic majority seemed in question in early results. Republicans grabbed one Democratic-held district north of Miami, kept another in Indiana that Democrats hoped would signal a political wave in their direction, and were leading in crucial races in Illinois and Michigan.

With the GOP presidential candidate rousing opposition in many suburban and ethnically diverse districts, Democrats were hoping to gain Republican-held seats in New Jersey, Nevada and California. But they seemed all but certain to fall short of the 30-seat addition they needed to take command of the House for the first time in six years. Democrats have gained that many seats in just five of the 35 elections since World War II.

In Florida, freshman GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo won a race that showed Trump’s damage to Republicans would be more limited than Democrats hoped. With around 7 in 10 of the Miami-area district’s voters Hispanic, the race became one of the country’s most expensive with a price tag exceeding $18 million, but Curbelo held on.
Virginia freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock did the same, keeping her seat in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., despite Democrats’ relentless attempts to tie her to Trump. The two sides spent more than $20 million on that contest in a district of highly educated, affluent voters that both sides had viewed as vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.
“This could be a really good night for America,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who won a 10th term, told supporters in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
While Trump hurt Republicans in some areas, his appeal to working-class white voters and their antipathy to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival for president, was helping GOP candidates in others. That could help Republicans limit an erosion of their majority in the chamber that could leave hard-line conservatives with added clout to vex party leaders.
Florida, where court-ordered redistricting created a bunch of competitive races, was also the site of Election Day’s first two defeated incumbents, including 12-term veteran Rep. John Mica, 73, in the Orlando area. Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, once the state’s Republican governor, defeated another GOP lawmaker in St Petersburg.
The GOP’s current 247-188 majority, which includes three vacancies, is a high-water mark for House Republicans since the 270 members they had in 1931. Only several dozen of the chamber’s seats were considered competitive, though most of those considered at risk were held by Republicans.
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 holding a formidable advantage, work has stalled on spending bills after hitting objections from conservatives, including the roughly 40 members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus. With moderate GOP lawmakers likely among Tuesday’s election losers, dissident Republicans’ leverage will likely grow next year.
That suggests tougher problems ahead for GOP leaders, with conservative objections likely over a fresh round of budget legislation plus the need to renew the government’s borrowing authority or face an economy-jarring federal default.
A thinner Republican majority could also strengthen conservatives demanding the impeachment of Hillary Clinton, should she be elected president. Ryan has yet to address that issue directly.
Even Ryan, who’s said he wants to be speaker in the new Congress, is not immune to ire from the Freedom Caucus and other Republicans upset over his refusal to campaign for Trump.
If the GOP margin is whittled significantly, just a handful of disgruntled conservatives could block Ryan from the 218 votes he’d need to retain his post. That could be an embarrassing setback for the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, who may harbor future White House aspirations, and some Republicans say it might persuade the 46-year-old Ryan to leave Congress.
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