Democrats seized the House majority from Republicans in midterm US elections but the “blue wave” did not reach the Senate where President Donald Trump’s party gained ground while some key state governorships remained in the red column.
The mixed verdict in the first nationwide election of Mr Trump’s young presidency underscored the limits of his hardline immigration rhetoric in America’s evolving political landscape, where college-educated voters in the nation’s suburbs rejected his warnings of a migrant “invasion”. Working class voters and rural America embraced his aggressive talk and stances.
However, the new Democratic House majority will end the Republican Party’s dominance in Washington for the final two years of Mr Trump’s first term with major questions looming about health care, immigration and government spending.
The president’s party will maintain control of the executive and judicial branches of the government, in addition to the Senate, but Democrats suddenly have a foothold that gives them subpoena power to probe deep into Mr Trump’s personal and professional missteps and his long-withheld tax returns.
“Tomorrow will be a new day in America,” declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who would be in line to become the next House speaker.
It could have been a much bigger night for Democrats, who suffered stinging losses in Ohio and in Florida, where Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis ended Democrat Andrew Gillum’s bid to become the state’s first African-American governor.
The 2018 elections also exposed an extraordinary political realignment in an electorate defined by race, gender, and education that could shape US politics for years to come. Republican successes were fuelled by a coalition that’s decidedly older, whiter, more male and less likely to have college degrees.
Democrats relied more upon women, black voters, young people and college graduates.
Record diversity on the ballot may have helped drive turnout. Women won at least 85 seats in the House, a record. The House was also getting its first two Muslim women, Massachusetts elected its first black congresswoman, and Tennessee got its first female senator.
Three candidates had hoped to become their states’ first African-American governors, although just one, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, was still in the running. In suburban areas where key House races were decided, female voters skewed significantly toward Democrats by a nearly 10-point margin.
Democrats celebrated a handful of victories in their “blue wall” Midwestern states, electing or re-electing governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker was defeated by state education chief Tony Evers.
The road to a House majority ran through two dozen suburban districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Democrats gained seats in suburban districts outside of Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and Denver.
Democrats also reclaimed a handful of blue-collar districts carried by both former president Barack Obama and Mr Trump. The results were more mixed deeper into Trump country. In Kansas, Democrat Sharice Davids beat a Republican incumbent to become the first gay Native American woman elected to the House.
But in Kentucky, one of the top Democratic recruits, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, lost her bid to oust to three-term Representative Andy Barr. Mr Trump sought to take credit for retaining the Republican Senate majority, even as the party’s foothold in the House was slipping.
“Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” Mr Trump tweeted.
History was working against the president in both the House and the Senate. The president’s party has traditionally suffered deep losses in his first midterm election, and 2002 was the only midterm election in the past three decades when the party holding the White House gained Senate seats.
Democrats’ dreams of the Senate majority, always unlikely, were shattered after losses in top Senate battlegrounds: Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas.
In Texas, Senator Ted Cruz staved off a tough challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke, whose record-smashing fundraising and celebrity have set off buzz he could be a credible 2020 White House contender. Mr Trump encouraged voters to view the 2018 midterms as a referendum on his leadership, pointing proudly to the surging economy at his recent rallies.
Nearly 40% of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, according to AP VoteCast, the national survey of the electorate, while one in four said they voted to express support for Mr Trump.
Overall, six in 10 voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction, but roughly that same number described the national economy as excellent or good.
Twenty-five percent described health care and immigration as the most important issues in the election.
Nearly two-thirds said Mr Trump was a reason for their vote. The president bet big on a xenophobic closing message, warning of an immigrant “invasion” that promised to spread violent crime and drugs across the nation.
Several television networks, including the president’s favourite Fox News Channel, yanked a Trump campaign advertisement off the air on the eve of the election, determining that its portrayal of a murderous immigrant went too far.
One of Mr Trump’s most vocal defenders on immigration, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, lost his bid for governor. Mr Kobach had built a national profile as an advocate of tough immigration policies and strict voter photo ID laws.
He served as vice chairman of Mr Trump’s now-defunct commission on voter fraud. The president found partial success despite his current job approval, set at 40% by Gallup, the lowest at this point of any first-term president in the modern era.
Both Barack Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s numbers were five points higher, and both suffered major midterm losses of 63 and 54 House seats respectively.
Meanwhile, the close of the 2018 midterm season marked the unofficial opening of the next presidential contest. Several ambitious Democrats easily won re-election, including presidential prospects Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
A handful of others played key roles in their parties’ midterm campaigns, though not as candidates, and were reluctant to telegraph their 2020 intentions before the 2018 fight was decided.
They included New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, former New York City mayor Tom Steyer and former vice president Joe Biden. Ms Warren said: “This resistance began with women and it is being led by women tonight.”