Democrats are pushing to cement control of the House of Representatives for two more years with perhaps an even larger majority.
Early results were not conclusive in hotly contested districts from New York and Virginia to Texas and Arizona. But in one noteworthy but unsurprising finish, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has espoused unfounded QAnon conspiracy theories, won a vacant seat from an overwhelmingly Republican district in north-west Georgia.
Ms Greene, whom Mr Trump has called a “future Republican star”, has alleged an “Islamic invasion” of government offices and expressed other racist views. QAnon asserts that Mr Trump is quietly waging a battle against paedophiles in the federal bureaucracy and Democratic Party. Ms Greene has since backtracked from her embrace of QAnon.
Scores of both parties’ incumbents from safe districts were easily re-elected. Victors included the number three House leaders of each party; Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina and Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Republicans were hoping to oust some of the 29 Democrats in districts Mr Trump won in 2016, in districts ranging from upstate New York to rural New Mexico.
But nearly all Democratic incumbents in potentially vulnerable districts were outspending their Republican challengers, often by vast margins. Democrats were also aiming millions at Republican-held seats from areas around Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Indianapolis, and even Republican strongholds like Little Rock, Arkansas, western Colorado and Alaska.
Both parties’ operatives agreed that the Republicans were mostly playing defence and would be fortunate to limit Democratic gains to modest single digits. Democrats control the House by 232-197, with five open seats and one independent. It takes 218 seats to control the chamber.
Hanging over the contests were the coronavirus pandemic and the wounded economy, which voters ranked as top concerns, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate. The virus has killed 232,000 people in the US and cases are rising in nearly every state, while millions have lost jobs.
Should Democrat Joe Biden defeat Mr Trump and Democrats win the Senate majority, the party would fully control the White House and Congress for only the second time since 1995. They last held the presidency, Senate and House in 2009 and 2010, the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
A larger Democratic majority would make it easier for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to pass party priorities that include expanding healthcare coverage and creating jobs with new infrastructure projects. After a two-year run as one of her party’s most effective counterpoints to Mr Trump, the 80-year-old Ms Pelosi is all but certain to serve two more years running the House.
On a conference call, Ms Pelosi expressed certainty that Democrats will “solidly hold the House”.
A handful of outspoken progressives from safe Democratic districts in New York and elsewhere are assured of winning their elections, making intraparty showdowns likely about how aggressively to pursue a liberal agenda. Even so, moderates seem certain to outnumber the progressives.
For Republicans, a failure to move significantly towards retaking the House – let alone losing seats – would trigger a reckoning about why they remain trapped in the chamber’s minority. A major question would be how to regain suburban voters who have fled the Republicans in droves, largely in reaction to Mr Trump’s embrace of racially insensitive appeals, frequent reliance on falsehoods and policies on immigration and social justice that many moderates view as harsh.
As in 2018 when they grabbed House control, Democratic ads emphasised pledges to make healthcare more accessible, preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions and shield voters from Republicans out to terminate those requirements. Many Republicans say they want to dismantle Mr Obama’s healthcare law while retaining its coverage for pre-existing conditions, but they have not presented a detailed proposal for doing that.
The pandemic has only amplified Democrats’ focus on healthcare. Mr Trump’s repeated false statements downplaying the virus’s severity have also given Democrats political fodder.