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Winners and losers from election night 2018

Following Democratic House gains and Republican Senate gains, The Fix's Aaron Blake analyzes the winners and losers from the 2018 midterm elections. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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The 2018 election is nearly in the books: Democrats have taken the House, and Republicans will keep the Senate. And there was, and will be, plenty of shouting.

Below, some winners and losers.



Republicans will pitch this as a split decision, because they gain seats in the Senate. It’s not; the Senate map was highly favorable to them, meaning that maintaining control of it was expected. Democrats just took over a chamber of Congress, and that’s a big thing for them, period.

Their math when it comes to winning the Senate in coming elections got tougher, but they now have a seat at the table in Washington.

Speaker(?) Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touted House Democratic gains on Nov. 6 and said the election was about "restoring" checks and balances. (Video: Reuters)

Good things (probably) come to those who wait. It’s rare that a former speaker sticks around for as long as Pelosi did after losing the gavel in 2010. And it seemed especially odd that she did, given how tough we knew it would be for Democrats to win back the House this decade.

But she kept raising big money for her side, and she stuck around long enough. Now she just needs to make sure there are enough Democrats willing to vote for her to allow her to become speaker again. It will be tough to stop her, though.

Mitch McConnell

It may not have been a huge surprise that Republicans held the Senate, but they did it with ease, meaning Republicans can keep confirming President Trump’s judges. And it will be even easier now, given the GOP’s majority has expanded by at least a couple seats.

Oh, and the bonus for the Senate majority leader: Democrat Amy McGrath’s loss in Kentucky’s 6th District. The highly touted candidate and top fundraiser would instantly have been considered a potential candidate for McConnell’s seat in 2020.

Florida’s felons

Amendment 4 passed in Florida, restoring voting rights for convicted felons. That’s both huge from a civil rights standpoint — especially given that such ballot initiatives in Florida need to clear a 60 percent threshold — and from an electoral one. About 9 percent of the voting-age population in Florida is composed of felons, and many of them are racial minorities. That could change elections (probably in Democrats’ favor) for years to come.

Democratic diversity

Colorado’s Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor, and Democrats elected two Muslim women (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar) and two Native American women (Kansas’s Sharice Davids and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland), among other firsts. They also may set the record for women elected.

Here's where the 2018 midterm election saw historic gains on both state and national levels. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

John James

The Republican Senate candidate from Michigan got little buzz and lost, but he was actually closer to unseating Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) than the GOP was to holding the state’s governor’s seat. As of early Wednesday morning, he was losing by just seven percentage points.

James, an African American Iraq veteran and conservative businessman, didn’t get much national backing this time. He might in a future run.

Medicaid expansion

Ballot initiatives passed in three deep-red states — Nebraska, Idaho and Utah — to expand Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare, and a fourth state — Kansas — elected a Democratic governor who replaces a Republican who previously nixed an expansion that was supported by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

That’s four states set to join the 33 that have already expanded Medicaid.

Sherrod Brown 2020

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pretty easily dispatched Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), despite the GOP winning Ohio’s governor’s race. Then, in his victory speech, Brown left little doubt he’s eyeing the next prize: a presidential run.

“Let our country — our nation’s citizens, our Democratic Party, my fellow elected officials all over the country — let them all cast their eyes toward the heartland, to the industrial Midwest, to our Great Lakes state,” Brown said. He concluded: “That is the message coming out of Ohio in 2018, and that is the blueprint for our nation in 2020.” He’s running?

Beto 2020 (and beyond)

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Tex.) conceded his Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Nov. 6. (Video: Reuters)

No, things didn’t go according to plan for Texas Democrats’ new supposed savior. They haven’t won a statewide race in 24 years — the longest such streak in the country — and that didn’t change Tuesday.

But Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) did raise a metric ton of money, and even a close loss (he trailed by just three percentage points with 94 percent of precincts in) is likely to keep him on the radar. Given the very long list of Democrats expected to run for president, why not the guy who just made Texas competitive? He’s got to be tempted.


Beto 2018, and its donors

A loss is a loss, and we shouldn’t pretend it’s not. It’s got to be especially deflating for those who invested so much hope in O’Rourke’s candidacy — and for the people who invested their hard-earned cash, a record $70 million worth of it. Democrats have a way of focusing on shiny objects, and this shiny object didn’t prevail Tuesday.

It’s the economy, stupid’

The Trump era has forced us to reevaluate many political assumptions, and we can now add this Clinton-era adage to the list. The idea that the economy is the most important thing at all times doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent and 8 in 10 voters rate the economy positively, but the party in power loses a chamber.

The economy almost certainly helped Republicans, but it wasn’t enough to save them, either because of external factors or because Trump was so focused on other things.

Trump’s immigration strategy

It was fashionable to say that Trump’s fear-based, anti-caravan strategy was ugly, but probably effective. And it might have been in Senate races in clearly red territory. But it didn’t seem to do much of anything to save the House, which was the more endangered chamber. Exit polls showed about half of voters regarded Trump’s rhetoric as “too tough.”

In the end, it seemed more that Trump was just doing what he knew, rather than what would save one-half of Congress.

Voting against Kavanaugh

One vote can be oversold, but it’s notable that Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) cast some of the most surprising votes against Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination — after voting for Neil M. Gorsuch — while Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) voted for Kavanaugh and did just fine in the Trumpiest state in the country.

Again, that vote may not have sealed the deal, but Donnelly and Heitkamp both underperformed expectations — and Donnelly badly so. Perhaps those votes reminded conservatives of the big downside of having a Democrat in the Senate.

Democrats’ next generation of stars

Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis triumphed over Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida in a hard-fought election that brought Gillum national prominence. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

It wasn’t just O’Rourke losing a high-profile, tough race. Andrew Gillum lost for Florida governor. Stacey Abrams appeared likely to lose in Georgia’s governor’s race and fail to make the runoff (though there is some question). And Randy Bryce, the man Democrats fell in love with as a foil to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (you know: Iron Stache), lost the open-seat race for Ryan’s seat by double digits.

These might have been the four buzziest Democratic candidates — in fact, they were the four cited by Esquire — and they all came up short.

Danny Tarkanian

The son of famed UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has tried his best to make a name for himself — and failed ... six times in 14 years. From a state Senate campaign to a secretary of state bid to a Senate bid to three congressional races, Tarkanian has looked hard for a winnable race and came up empty each and every time. The most recent came Tuesday in Nevada’s competitive 3rd district.