Before national progressives fell in love with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and filled his Texas coffers with small-dollar donations, before Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum shockingly won a late August primary in Florida, the Democratic Party had a single goal for the 2018 midterm elections: Win back control of the House of Representatives in order to provide a check on President Donald Trump in the last two years of his term.
And they did.
“People can call it whatever they want,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Lujan told HuffPost when asked if Tuesday night’s results counted as a wave.
“Tonight we won the majority back. It’s already approaching 30 seats. It may be better than that. That’s a lot of seats, however you measure it. Tonight was very clear where the American people stood.”
Democrats won big in the House, nearly sweeping the suburban districts they needed in order to obtain a majority, and then pulling off upsets in several districts won by Trump in 2016.
Some of their most surprising wins came in urban and suburban areas: In Virginia, former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger defeated GOP Rep. Dave Brat in a district centered on the Richmond suburbs, and Navy veteran Elaine Luria defeated Scott Taylor in a district including Virginia Beach. In Oklahoma, nonprofit executive Kendra Horn pulled off a shocking upset in an Oklahoma City-area district held by GOP Rep. Steve Russell. Trump had won the district by double digits in 2016.
The outcome reflected a growing rural-urban divide in American politics, with the GOP romping in Senate races in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s strong performance in rural parts of Florida powering his victory over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Those three Senate pickups, along with still undecided races in Montana, Nevada and Arizona, indicate Democrats could face a steep climb to win back control of the upper chamber in the foreseeable political future.
However, if Democrats sweep the three seats still up in the air, they would have limited Republicans to a single net pickup over the course of a cycle — an accomplishment, considering Democrats started the cycle defending 10 incumbents in states Trump won.
The biggest stings for Democrats came in states in the former Confederacy, where progressives were hoping to capitalize on demographic changes and expand the electorate. Gubernatorial candidate Gillum and Senate hopeful O’Rourke both lost by narrow margins, and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was trailing. All three candidates had won admiration from progressives across the country and raised heaps of money online.
Candidates casting their votes during the 2018 midterm election
Candidates casting their votes during the 2018 midterm election
Democratic candidate Christine Hallquist votes during the midterm election in Hyde Park, Vermont, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Caleb Kenna
Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrives to vote in the midterm elections in the Bronx, New York City, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Missouri Attorney General and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley, left, checks in to the polling place before voting, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), candidate for U.S. Senate arrives with his family to vote in the 2018 midterm elections in El Paso, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican candidate for Governor Ron DeSantis arrives to vote, carrying his daughter Madison, in the midterm elections at a polling place in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar walks to the vote counting machine after filling out her ballot during midterm elections in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Miller
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, center, carrying son Davis, age 16 months, leaves the polling place after voting with wife R. Jai, right, during midterm elections in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Colin Hackley TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Alaska independent U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin smiles after emerging from a voting booth on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. Galvin, who arrived at the polling location with her family, is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young for Alaska's lone U.S. House seat. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
California gubernatorial Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom walks with his daughter, Montana, 9, to turn his ballot after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Larkspur, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp gives the thumbs up sign as he and youngest daughter Amy Porter leave after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Winterville, Ga. Kemp is in a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Virginia Republican senatorial candidate Corey Stewart, center, and his wife Maria Stewart, left, voting at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Wife Maria Stewart
Marty Nothstein, Republican candidate in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, arrive at his polling station to vote Tuesday Nov. 6, 2018, in New Tripoli, Pa. Nothstein is facing Democrat Susan Wild for the seat held by Charlie Dent who retired. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)
Anthony Brindisi, left, Democratic candidate for New York's 22nd Congressional District, casts his vote at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Brindisi, a Democratic Assemblyman, is hoping to defeat Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney in New York's 22nd Congressional District race. Pictured at right are his wife, Erica McGovern Brindisi, and his daughter, Lily Grace Brindisi. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)
Democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath checks in with poll workers before voting on Election Day in Georgetown, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Haley Stevens, candidate for Michigan's 11th Congressional District, gives a thumbs up as exits her polling place Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Rochester Hills, Mich. Stevens is running against Lena Epstein. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Candidate for Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., gestures after casting his ballot in Langhorne, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
California gubernatorial Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom ties the shoe laces of his son Hunter, 7, as his son, Dutch, 2, looks on after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Larkspur, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Dana Balter, candidate for the House of Representatives in New York's 24th Congressional District, applies her "I Voted" sticker after casting her vote in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
AGUA DULCE, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Congressional candidate Katie Hill (L) shakes hands with a poll worker after casting her ballot at a polling place in California's 25th Congressional district on November 6, 2018 in Agua Dulce, California. Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Knight is competing against Hill for his seat in the district in a close race. Political races across the country are being hotly contested for House and Senate seats. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
COSTA MESA, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Longtime Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) passes people heading toward a polling place as he walks with family members after dropping off his ballot on November 6, 2018 in Costa Mesa, California. According to recent polling, Rohrabacher and Democratic challenger Harley Rouda are in a virtual tie to represent the 48th Congressional district. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 06: Missouri's Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Josh Hawley casts his vote on election day at The Crossings Church on November 6, 2018 in Columbia, Missouri. Hawley, the current Missouri Attorney General, is hoping to unseat current Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
TURLOCK, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California's 10th Congressional District casts his vote at the Berkeley Ave Baptist Church on November 6, 2018 in Turlock, California. Denham, a four-term Republican incumbent and Air Force veteran, is competing against Democratic challenger Josh Harder in one of seven closely-contested congressional races currently held by the GOP in California won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 as the Democrats hope to regain control of the House in the midterm elections. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
WHITMAN, MA - NOVEMBER 6: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Geoff Diehl and his wife KathyJo Boss leave Whitman Town Hall in Whitman, MA after casting their votes on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Axne gets her ballot for the midterm elections at her polling station in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Scott Morgan
Democratic congressional candidate running in the 49th district Mike Levin gets an "I Voted" sticker put on by his wife Chrissy after they voted during midterm elections in San Juan Capistrano, California, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer shakes hands after voting in midterm election at her polling station at the St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Lansing, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky
Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib points to her 'I voted' sticker after voting during the midterm election in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Democratic Congressional candidate Jahana Hayes waits in line to fill out her ballot to vote at a voting station during the midterm election in Wolcott, Connecticut, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
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O’Rourke seemed to suggest he could run again in the future. (Some Democrats have suggested he run for president; others hope he will challenge GOP Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.)
“We will see you out there, down the road,” O’Rourke told his supporters. “I’m so f*****g proud of you guys.”
And in an early morning speech, Abrams promised voters she would get a “do-over,” indicating she believed enough votes were outstanding to force the race to a runoff.
There were also disappointments in the Rust Belt and Midwest. Although Democratic senators easily dispatched GOP opponents in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, they didn’t match those results at the gubernatorial level, failing to capture governor’s races in Ohio and Iowa, two states Trump had won easily in 2016.
But here, there were also reasons for optimism: In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers narrowly won early Wednesday, apparently finally ousting GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
But Walker’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said early Wednesday morning that the campaign wasn’t conceding.
“I’m here tonight to tell you that fight is not over,” she told supporters, before requesting donations to fund a possible recount.
There were also other triumphs: Democrat Laura Kelly romped over a favorite of Trump’s, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, by a 5 percentage point margin. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage passed in Arkansas and Missouri, as did Medicaid expansion in a slew of red states. And the Democratic Party made massive gains at the state level, bringing unified Democratic government to Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and New York. It also ended one-party GOP rule in Kansas, Michigan and New Hampshire.
But the biggest victory was always going to be control of the House, which will give the party the power to investigate every aspect of Trump’s administration and stop all but the most bipartisan legislation. In the past, presidents who have lost the House have appeared apologetic. When George W. Bush lost 31 House seats in 2006, he called it a “thumping.” When Barack Obama’s Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, he labeled it a “shellacking.”
The GOP’s gains in the Senate allowed Trump to make a different claim.