The House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday’s midterm elections.
The GOP, according to a CNN projection Tuesday night, was expected to keep the House majority this cycle. But the party overcame a significant Democratic fundraising advantage and was able to beat back challenges to many of their members in swing districts and take control of some seats in some areas long held by Democrats.
This year, the battle for the House was fought on a relatively small terrain — in roughly 40 competitive seats. After state legislatures reshaped congressional districts in 2010, the vast majority of House’s 435 seats became more solidly blue or red.
Republican incumbents and challengers framed the 2014 midterm election as a referendum on President Barack Obama. His record low approval ratings served as a drag on Democrats across the country, and many candidates tried to detach themselves from the president’s record and turn the focus to local economic issues.
Democrats argued House GOP members were more concerned with helping powerful special interests than protecting the middle class.
But the president loomed large over the campaign, and questions about how he handled a series of international and domestic crises in the late fall — from the threat from the terrorist group ISIS in the Mideast to the outbreak of Ebola — made it tough for the Democratic message to break through.
Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, frequently told reporters that the 2014 midterm elections mirrored the contest in 2006. That year, Democrats tied GOP members to President George W. Bush and the unpopular Iraq war, and won control of the House.
The tea party wave that put Republicans in the majority in 2010 had already sent most of those fiscally conservative House Democrats packing. But more Democratic losses this year means the ranks of centrist Democrats in the House are virtually non-existent.
House Speaker John Boehner added to his GOP majority, but an influx of more conservative members means increased headaches for him in the next Congress.
Since he took the gavel in 2011, Boehner has struggled with defections from a bloc of his own members who repeatedly demanded a harder line on slashing federal spending and confronting Senate Democrats and the president on health care and other issues.
Boehner has already outlined a five-part agenda he wants to tackle in the next Congress and said he wants the GOP bills that stalled in the Democratic Senate over the last few years to be revived. His plan includes reducing the debt, reforming the tax code, eliminating government regulations, instituting legal reforms, and expanding education opportunities.
House GOP leaders could have their work cut out for them.
Many House conservatives are suspicious of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who they view as too much of a Washington insider and too willing to negotiate with the Obama administration or Senate Democrats. If Republicans are able to capture the upper chamber Boehner and McConnell will likely wrestle with a vocal group from the right flank of their party over legislative priorities.
With a more liberal House Democratic caucus, the task of negotiating any significant legislation across an even wider ideological divide will grow even tougher. Democrats will have their eye on regaining control of the House in 2016, when they believe the political environment will be better for them. The incentive to join Boehner to help pass bipartisan bills won’t be very high, and a more polarized House could increase gridlock.
Despite the low number of competitive House races in this election cycle, the Center for Responsive Politics found that nearly $800 million was spent by candidates and outside groups on campaigns for the 2014 election cycle.
Rep. Steve Israel, chair of the House Democrat’s campaign arm, told reporters early Tuesday night, even before results began to come in for 2014, that he could “guarantee the House will be in reach in 2016.”