In Kansas, Democrat Sharice Davids beat a GOP incumbent to become the first Native American and gay woman elected to the House. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

In Kansas, Democrat Sharice Davids beat a GOP incumbent to become the first Native American and gay woman elected to the House. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Dems flip a string of GOP seats in early House returns

The Democrats picked up at least 10 Republican-held House seats across the east in early returns.

By Lisa Mascaro / Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Democrats picked up at least 10 Republican-held House seats across the eastern half of the country in early returns Tuesday but fell short in a closely watched race in Kentucky as they fought to wrest control of the chamber from the GOP.

Democrats needed a net gain of 23 seats to break the Republicans’ eight-year hold on the House and gain a check on President Donald Trump.

The Democratic gains included several suburban districts eyed for turnover because they were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the Miami area, former Clinton administration Cabinet member Donna Shalala won an open seat, while GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo lost his bid for a third term in another district.

In the suburbs outside the nation’s capital, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock — among the most endangered GOP incumbents, branded Barbara “Trumpstock” by Democrats — lost to Jennifer Wexton, a prosecutor and state legislator. Wexton was among the record number of women running this year.

And in Kansas, Democrat Sharice Davids beat a GOP incumbent to become the first Native American and gay 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 Rep. Andy Barr in the Lexington-area district.

Pennsylvania looked particularly daunting for Republicans after court-imposed redistricting and a rash of retirements put several seats in play. Democratic favorite Conor Lamb, who stunned Washington by winning a special election in the state, beat Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in a new district. At least three other red districts flipped to blue.

As Election Day unfolded, Democrats were increasingly confident, predicting a House majority on the strength of voter enthusiasm, robust fundraising and unusually fresh candidates.

Democratic control of the House would break the GOP’s monopoly on power in Washington and would almost certainly bring an onslaught of investigations of Trump’s businesses and his administration.

“I feel confident we will win,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said as the polls opened.

Midterm elections are typically difficult for the party in power, and GOP incumbents were on defense in races across the country. More women than ever were running, along with military veterans and minorities, many of them motivated by Trump’s rise.

The campaign unfolded against a backdrop of jarring political imagery, heated rhetoric and angry debates on immigration, health care and the role of Congress in overseeing the president.

To stem Republican losses, Trump sprinted through mostly white regions of the country, interjecting dark and foreboding warnings about what Democratic power would mean for the nation.

The debate was dominated not by the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts but by Trump’s dire prediction of “invasion” from the migrant caravan and what he called the “radical” agenda of speaker-in-waiting Pelosi.

GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana predicted his party would retain a slim majority, saying on election eve: “In the end, we hold the House because of the strong economy.”

Health care and immigration were high on voters’ minds as they cast ballots, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate conducted by AP. AP VoteCast also showed a majority of voters considered Trump a factor in their votes.

For Democrats, the road to the 218-seat majority ran through two dozen suburban districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and through swaths of Trump country in the Rust Belt and heartland where voters backed the president two years ago.

How women and independent voters cast their ballots was likely to determine the outcome.

Ballot counting could drag in tight races, leaving some races undecided long after Election Day.

Outside Richmond, one-time tea party favorite Rep. Dave Brat faced an unusually strong challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative motivated to run for office after the GOP vote to gut the Affordable Care Act. Like other Democrats across the country, Spanberger emphasized protecting people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage or charged more by insurers.

In a suburban battleground in Atlanta, Republican Rep. Karen Handel won a costly special election earlier this cycle but faced an upstart challenge from Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed at a gas station.

The GOP’s hold on the majority was complicated by an unusually large number of retirements as well as persistent infighting between conservatives and centrists, with much of the conflict centered on the question of allegiance to Trump.

In North Carolina, Republicans were struggling to hold onto a seat where Baptist minister Mark Harris ousted a GOP incumbent in the primary. Harris was facing a stiff challenge from Marine veteran and small-businessman Dan McCready.

Republicans had expected the GOP tax plan would be the cornerstone of their election agenda this year, but it became a potential liability in key states along the East and West coasts where residents could face higher tax bills because of limits on property and sales tax deductions.

The tax law has been particularly problematic for Republicans in New Jersey, where four of five GOP-held seats were being seriously contested. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, was favored for a suburban Newark seat that became open after the sudden retirement of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee. An open seat that included Atlantic City was also ripe for Democratic pickup by state lawmaker Jeff Van Drew after the GOP campaign committee abandoned Republican Seth Grossman over racially charged comments.

The committee also distanced itself from eight-term Rep. Steve King of Iowa after racial remarks, and his seat was unexpectedly contested in the final week of the campaign.

The fight for control of the House could come down to a handful of seats out West, particularly in California, where the GOP’s one-time stronghold of Orange County voted for Clinton in 2016.

Four GOP seats in Orange County, including two where the incumbent Republicans retired, were in play, along with three other seats to the north beyond Los Angeles and into the Central Valley.

“We always knew these races are going to be close,” said Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, co-chair of House Democrats’ recruitment efforts. “It’s just a very robust class of candidates that really reflects who we are as a country.”

Talk to us

More in Nation-World

A woman reacts as she prepares to leave an area for relatives of the passengers aboard China Eastern's flight MU5735 at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Guangzhou. No survivors have been found as rescuers on Tuesday searched the scattered wreckage of a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people that crashed a day earlier on a wooded mountainside in China's worst air disaster in more than a decade. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
No survivors found in crash of Boeing 737 in China

What caused the plane to drop out of the sky shortly before it was to being its descent remained a mystery.

In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern's flight MU5735 are seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday, March 21, 2022. A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country's worst air disaster in nearly a decade. (Xinhua via AP)
Boeing 737 crashes in southern China with 132 aboard

More than 15 hours after communication was lost with the plane, there was still no word of survivors.

In this photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Street fighting broke out in Ukraine's second-largest city Sunday and Russian troops put increasing pressure on strategic ports in the country's south following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere that appeared to mark a new phase of Russia's invasion. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukraine wants EU membership, but accession often takes years

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request has enthusiastic support from several member states.

FILE - Ukrainian servicemen walk by fragments of a downed aircraft,  in in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. The International Criminal Court's prosecutor has put combatants and their commanders on notice that he is monitoring Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. But, at the same time, Prosecutor Karim Khan acknowledges that he cannot investigate the crime of aggression. (AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak, File)
ICC prosecutor to open probe into war crimes in Ukraine

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet confirmed that 102 civilians have been killed.

FILE - Refugees fleeing conflict from neighboring Ukraine arrive to Zahony, Hungary, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seek refuge in neighboring countries, cradling children in one arm and clutching belongings in the other, leaders in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are offering a hearty welcome. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi, File)
Europe welcomes Ukrainian refugees — others, less so

It is a stark difference from treatment given to migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Afghan evacuees disembark the plane and board a bus after landing at Skopje International Airport, North Macedonia, on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. North Macedonia has hosted another group of 44 Afghan evacuees on Wednesday where they will be sheltered temporarily till their transfer to final destinations. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
‘They are safe here.’ Snohomish County welcomes hundreds of Afghans

The county’s welcoming center has been a hub of services and assistance for migrants fleeing Afghanistan since October.

FILE - In this April 15, 2019, file photo, a vendor makes change for a marijuana customer at a cannabis marketplace in Los Angeles. An unwelcome trend is emerging in California, as the nation's most populous state enters its fifth year of broad legal marijuana sales. Industry experts say a growing number of license holders are secretly operating in the illegal market — working both sides of the economy to make ends meet. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
In California pot market, a hazy line between legal and not

Industry insiders say the practice of working simultaneously in the legal and illicit markets is a financial reality.

19 dead, including 9 children, in NYC apartment fire

More than five dozen people were injured and 13 people were still in critical condition in the hospital.

15 dead after Russian skydiver plane crashes

The L-410, a Czech-made twin-engine turboprop, crashed near the town of Menzelinsk.

FILE - In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 elections in a moneymaking move that a company whistleblower alleges contributed to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram in hourslong worldwide outage

Something made the social media giant’s routes inaccessable to the rest of the internet.

Oil washed up on Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. A major oil spill off the coast of Southern California fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled Sunday to contain the crude before it spread further into protected wetlands. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Crews race to limited damage from California oil spill

At least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of oil spilled into the waters off Orange County.

YouTube will remove videos with misinformation about any vaccine

The ban covers claims vaccines are dangerous or lead to chronic health outcomes such as autism.