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House Democrats grapple with fallout from lackluster election performance

Republicans clinging to Senate majority
Republicans clinging to Senate majority as races wind down 04:28

Democrats appear to have held on to their majority in the House after Election Day, and several representatives in swing districts managed to hold on to their seats. But Democrats did not experience the same outright victory they achieved in 2018. 

Two years ago, Democratic candidates flipped 40 red districts blue. This year, however, many of those vulnerable freshmen lost their seats, or appeared to be losing as of Thursday.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political analysis site, rated nine Democratic-held congressional seats as "toss-up" ahead of Election Day. CBS News project Democrats were losing in eight of those nine seats as of Thursday morning. Congresswomen Abby Finkenauer of Iowa and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, both of whom were elected in 2018, had conceded. Freshmen Representatives TJ Cox of California, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, Max Rose of New York and Anthony Brindisi of New York appeared to be losing as of Thursday morning. Representative Colin Peterson of Minnesota, who was first elected in 1990, also appeared to be losing.

Other Democrats in races that Cook Political Report had rated "lean Democratic" also appeared to be losing their races as of Thursday morning. Freshman Congresswoman Donna Shalala of Florida had conceded her race, while Representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina appeared to be lagging.

A Democratic aide in a competitive district said their candidate had been "walloped" by voters who turned out to support President Trump. "Doesn't feel like there's much of anything we could've done to overcome that," the aide said.

Several Democratic members angrily confronted Pelosi in a heated caucus-wide call on Thursday. Several members, such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger, said liberal catchphrases like "defund the police" hurt more moderate representatives in their reelection races. They complained that Republicans were able to tie them to "socialism" because of the party's more left-wing members.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on the call that the DCCC would do a "deep dive" on what happened, according to a source familiar with the call.

"I also want to say the thing we're all feeling: I'm furious. Something went wrong here across the entire political world. Our polls, Senate polls, gov polls, presidential polls, Republican polls, public polls, turnout modeling, and prognosticators all pointed to one political environment — that environment never materialized. In fact, the voters who turned out look a lot more like 2016 than to what was projected," Bustos said.

Despite these apparent losses, Republicans did not net the 17 seats they needed to gain the majority. In a letter to Democratic colleagues on Wednesday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged the election had been "challenging."

"Though it was a challenging election, all of our candidates — both Frontline and Red to Blue — made us proud," Pelosi said, referring to members who represented districts that President Trump carries in 2016 and candidates who had flipped red districts in 2018. "Our discipline in building a massive battlefield proved essential in keeping the Majority. Our success enabled us to win in our 'mobilization, messaging and money,' forcing Republicans to defend their own territory."

In a press conference Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took a bit of a victory lap, noting the Associated Press had projected Republicans flipped at least seven seats that were held by incumbent freshmen Democrats. He also said over a dozen Republican women had appeared to win their elections, increasing the number of GOP women in the House.

"We expanded this party that reflects America," McCarthy said. 

Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.

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