Congress divided: Democrats win House, GOP holds Senate

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

It’s a split decision.

Democrats will win control of the House in Tuesday’s critical midterm elections, and Republicans will hold the Senate after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rouke, NBC News projects.

In governor races, Democrats made some key gains even as Andrew Gillum in Florida was defeated and Stacey Abrams in Georgia was struggling. Both were vying to be their state’s first African-American chief executives.

“We recognize that we didn’t win it tonight,” Gillum told supporters. Abrams is trailing, though her race remains too close to call.

With polls now closed all states but Alaska, Democrats’ hopes for a tidal wave to rebuke President Donald Trump have been tempered by early returns that delivered some surprises in both directions for the out-of-power party.

“This is not going to be the wave election that people like me hoped for, but it could still be a good election,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on MSNBC.

Nov. 7, 201804:51

In addition to Texas, Republicans won key Senate contests in Indiana, North Dakota and Tennesse, suggesting the GOP may be on its way to ousting other vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states, such as Missouri, where Sen. Claire McCaskill was defeated by Republican Josh Hawley, according to an NBC News projection.

Still, the Democrats will find plenty of bright spots after a campaign that often seemed to be playing in two different universes, one for the House, where Trump was a liability for Republicans, and one for the Senate, where he was an asset.

Powered by a suburban revolt against Trump, Democrats have already flipped more than two dozen congressional seats, with more likely to come in California, a victory sweetened by out-of-the-blue victories inOklahoma and Staten Island, New York, according to NBC News projections.

Democratic activists are also likely to cheer the defeat in the Kansas governors race of Republican Kris Kobach, who has a national profile for cracking down on undocumented immigrants and allegations voting fraud, and the passage of a referendum in Florida to restore voting rights to 1.5 million felons, according to NBC News projections.

Governor races also presented a mixed decision, with Republicans winning Ohio and Florida, both crucial to Democrats’ 2020 plans, while Democrats won in Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, and several others, and hold narrow leads in too-close-to-call races in Wisconsin and Iowa, two states Trump won.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Menedez, D-N.J., whose trial on corruption charges ended in a hung jury last year, won another term, despite his Republican opponent spending $23 million on the race, much of it from his own bank account, NBC News projected.

And a referendum to legalize marijuana in Michigan also appears headed for passage, though NBC News has not yet made a call in there.

Democrats are hoping voters will reject Trump and the nationalist vision for America he’s championed in the closing weeks of the race, or they could signal assent by returning Republicans to power in both chambers of Congress.

The first rounds of NBC News exit polls show a majority of Americans, 54 percent, do not approve of Trump, with a substantial number — 47 percent — expressing strong disapproval.

Heath care, which Democrats emphasized throughout the campaign, was the top issue for Americans, with 41 percent selecting it, followed by immigration and the economy, two issues seen as favoring Republicans, which were selected by 23 and 21 percent of voters, respectively.

Overall, Americans expressed a fairly dim view of the state of politics, with 56 percent saying the country is on the wrong track and three-quarters of Americans saying the country is becoming more divided.

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What is clear, however, is that few congressional elections have ever captivated so many Americans.

Early voting exceeded 2014 levels in most states, according to TargetSmart, while campaign spending has been pushed to a record $5.2 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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The superlatives demonstrate the significance millions of Americans have invested in this midterms, believing it will help determine the future of the country and who gets to be a part of it.

“The character of this country is on the ballot. Who we are is on the ballot,” former President Barack Obama, hoarse from campaigning, told Democratic volunteers at a Virginia campaign office Monday.

The race has already made history with a record number of women and people of color running for office, giving voters a chance to make a number of firsts: First transgender governor, first Native American woman in Congress, first black woman governor, among others.

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Trump is not on the ballot, but the president has explicitly sought to make this election a referendum on his agenda as he campaigns for Republicans across the country, holding 53 campaign rallies in 23 states, including 30 since Labor Day.

“I need you to vote for a Republican House and a Republican Senate so we can continue this incredible movement,” Trump told supporters in Indiana on Friday.

In almost every midterm since the Civil War, Americans have opted to put a check on the president by handing more power to the opposition party in Congress.

The booming economy appears to be cushioning the blow for the GOP this year, but Trump has instead tended to focus on darker themes, for instance highlighting a caravan of migrants moving towards the U.S. border as much as he has the low unemployment rate.

If Democrats win the House, they plan to wield Congress’ vast oversight authority against the White House and could even vote to impeach the president, though removing him from office seems out of the question, since that requires a supermajority in the Senate.

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