‘Tomorrow,’ Nancy Pelosi said, ‘will be a new day in America.’

The Democrats now have the power needed to thwart Trump in 2020

Alex Hannaford

Alex Hannaford reports on the US midterm results

07 November 2018 08:38

It may not have been the blue tsunami some had predicted, but in taking back the House of Representatives from Republicans, the Democrats will now have some measure of power to fuel their attempts to thwart Donald Trump’s agenda in the two years he has left before the 2020 presidential election.

Although Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who ran a spirited (and well-funded) campaign against incumbent senator Ted Cruz, narrowly lost (by just three percentage points) and the Democrats failed to win the Senate, their jubilation at taking back the House was palpable. Peter Daou, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Tweeted: ‘If Dems win the House it’s a political earthquake.’ Former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who disavowed his party because of his dislike of Trump, said it marked the ‘end to unchecked corruption and abuse of power.’

The earliest senate seats called as polls closed on the east coast, were for Virginia Democrats Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders, the incumbent senior senator from Vermont who ran as an independent. Kaine beat Republican challenger Corey Stewart, who had controversially defended confederate monuments. The polls had only been closed 15 minutes on the east coast and conservative magazine National Review carried the news with the headline ‘Let’s not make the Corey Stewart mistake again.’

Elsewhere in Virginia, Democrats took their first House seat from the GOP when Jennifer Wexton comfortably beat the incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock. The night was still young, and the Democrats were psyched for what they hoped would be a landslide victory. The first floor of the Driskill Hotel, in Austin, the Texas state capital, was decked out for celebration with candlelit tables, red, white and blue balloons, and a three-piece country band.

The Democrats will now have some measure of power to fuel their attempts to thwart Donald Trump’s agenda in the two years he has left before the 2020 presidential election.

An hour before the party had officially begun, people milling around applauded Democratic wins as they were called by news station MSNBC on a giant screen. By 8pm eastern time, Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, widely tipped as a future presidential candidate, was projected to win her seat. By now the polls in Texas had closed; no word yet, though, of Beto. Twenty minutes later you’d have thought he’d won judging by the ear-piercing screams in the Driskill. But he’d just taken Dallas County. This was the moment Betomania had been leading up to, and so every victory, no matter how predictable, was going to be celebrated.

Then came the news that Illinois Democrat J.B Pritzker had defeated incumbent Bruce Rauner in that state’s governor’s race, giving Trump a run for his money, quite literally — Pritzker, a venture capitalist, is set to become the richest governor in history.

By now Ted Cruz was ahead of Beto by just half a point. Pete Fredriksen, a retiree who lives in Austin and volunteered for the Beto campaign, told me he hadn’t seen such hopeful enthusiasm in a Democratic ‘watch party’ since Ann Richards ran (successfully) for governor here in 1990.

An hour and a half later, MSNBC had Cruz and Beto neck and neck but elsewhere the news wasn’t so good: CNN was projecting Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, would represent Tennessee in the US Senate, a race the Democrats had hoped to win as part of their ambitious strategy to retake the upper chamber.

Although West Virginia voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016, Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator there, managed to cling on to his seat, fending off a challenge from Republican Patrick Morrisey.

This was the moment Betomania had been leading up to, and so every victory, no matter how predictable, was going to be celebrated.

Suddenly, Beto was ahead of Cruz by four points. ‘Call it,’ someone shouted, to cheers at the Driskill. But then came another dent in the Democrats’ already slim chance of winning the senate. Indiana Republican Mike Braun was now projected to beat his Democratic rival Joe Donnelly who had held the seat since 2012. The New York Times called it a ‘significant blow.’

Then Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic junior senator from North Dakota, fell. It wasn’t yet 9pm in Texas and already it was clear what was going to happen. Fox News was already projecting the Democrats would take the House, but The New York Times gave Republicans a 95% chance of retaining the Senate, solidifying their majority in the upper chamber.

Beto’s narrow lead had been fleeting. With 88% of precincts reporting, he now trailed Cruz by four points and networks were projecting he’d lose his race. The atmosphere in the Driskill had changed in an instant.

In the end, Beto lost by three points. Forrest Wilder, editor of the Texas Observer, told me that while his supporters would upset, his campaign — and the fact it was such a close race — had clearly made a dent in the armour of the Texas Republican party.

‘Beto was always a long shot,’ Wilder said. ‘The task of being the first Democrat to win state-wide in Texas in a quarter of a century, without much help, was always going to be extremely difficult, and it would have been a total shock to many if he’d won. But he kept it pretty close. In a sense there are no moral victories — you either win or you lose — but he did everything he could. It wasn’t a perfect campaign but there are no perfect campaigns, and he ran the best campaign for Texas Democrat running for state-wide office in as long as I’ve been paying attention.’

‘Beto was always a long shot.’

Wilder said there were bigger victories for the Democrats in Texas that may have been temporarily missed amid the disappointment of Beto’s loss. ‘It’s safe to say Harris County (in which Texas’s biggest city, Houston, is located) has gone blue, and that’s the holy grail for democrats here. If they can lock down Harris County in the same way they’ve locked down Dallas, Austin and other urban areas, it provides a foundation to run statewide and become competitive against the Republicans in future. It’s just maths. That’s where the voters are.’

Texas is often reduced to a stereotype — representing a backward, rabidly right-wing version of America. But Wilder said the demographics are changing — and this election is testament to that. ‘Tonight shows you that, in a sense, it’s still a Republican state, but one that’s changing very rapidly, and even among these losses, because they’re close, because of the turnout and energy and excitement, you can see there is some momentum in the direction of the Democrats.”

Van Jones, a former special adviser to president Barack Obama and a commentator on CNN, told the network that by taking control of the House, the new Democratic Party that’ll be represented in Congress is ‘younger, browner, cooler.’

And Jones just may be right. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who campaigned to become Representatives in Michigan and Minnesota respectively, will become the first Muslim women in the U.S. Congress. Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants; Omar arrived in the U.S. more than 20 years ago as a refugee from Somalia.

Then there’s 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, who by winning her New York district is set to become the youngest woman ever to sit in Congress. With Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids’ wins in New Mexico and Kansas, for the first time in history Native American women will be represented in Congress. In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley will become the first ever black woman in the state to be elected to the House of Representatives.

So, what happens now? Well for one, Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, who is about to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will be refocusing on the Russia investigation — something he has lambasted Republicans for what he described as an abdication of their responsibility.

There’s talk too of Democrats demanding Trump finally release his tax returns — wielding more power, this time round, to try to ensure it happens.

Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, who won her California congressional district by 84.5% to her Republican challenger’s 15.5%, will once again become speaker of the House, taking over from Paul Ryan who decided not to run for re-election, and who Trump has already blamed for the GOP’s defeat. ‘Tomorrow,’ Pelosi said, ‘will be a new day in America.’

‘Tomorrow,’ Nancy Pelosi said, ‘will be a new day in America.’