House Republicans may not have taken back control of the lower chamber, but GOP lawmakers say they see the party's sizable gains as a promising sign they can take back the House in 2022.
Political handicappers, in the days leading up to Nov. 3, projected GOP losses of between five and 20 seats, and the ultimate results left some within the GOP stunned by the unexpected success and with how the party significantly broadened the conference’s diversity and increased the number of female members.
“Now I've heard for months from the pollsters in the media about how Republicans were going to lose more seats and cling to shrinking coalitions,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
“We expanded this party that reflects America, that looks like America.”
By Wednesday afternoon, Republicans had already flipped seven seats and top lawmakers projected they would take out additional Democratic frontliners as the races continue to be called.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who fended off a challenge in a race rated as a “toss-up” by nonpartisan handicapper Cook Political Report, said he believes Democrats overestimated their support and strategically miscalculated going into November.
“She [DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill)] and [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [(D-Calif.)] were bragging about how many seats they were going to add to the majority and the night ended with us picking up a tremendous amount of seats, we still have more that we're likely to get,” Davis said.
Members pointed to the two upsets in south Florida — Maria Elvira Salazar ousting Rep. Donna Shalala (D) and Carlos Gimenez unseating Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) — in districts with strong Hispanic populations as examples of areas where they were able to broaden the party's appeal.
“I think you're going to see it continue to move. The future for the Republican Party is once again, the big tent party,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) the head of the House GOP’s campaign arm who kept his seat with 66 percent of the vote, told reporters on Wednesday.
“If this new Socialist Democrat Party of America continues to purge out it's more mainstream, my grandfather's Democrats the Republican Party becomes a more attractive home for many of these people who want to represent this country."
Emmer said he sees the substantial dent they made in Democrats’ numbers as a win for the party, adding that their strategy of linking Democratic candidates to far-left policies ranging from anti-fracking to defunding the police proved to be effecting in key battlegrounds.
“I think what we've done shows that it's a win. And I'll let other people judge, where they think things should be we were told that you know we were done,” he said.
“Clearly, we're not done and right now, I mean, Nancy Pelosi doesn't even have a majority where she can be elected Speaker again.”
A key component in House Democrats’ campaign strategy was linking GOP lawmakers and candidates to President Trump, but several Republicans said they believe the move was misguided, partially crediting Trump for helping down ballot. Others attributed the successes to strong grassroots operations, recruiting efforts and an energized base.
“We massively ramped up our door to door operation and the other side wasn't doing any. The second is the way the president was campaigning especially in the final days doing four or five rallies a day across many states — that motivates a low-propensity voter and that will help get them out not only in those areas but his supporters anywhere in the country,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), a top target for Democrats, said.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said while Trump may have helped vulnerable Republicans, Pelosi had the opposite effect for Democrats, with the GOP able to capitalize on her low approval ratings in swing seats.
“I'll tell you in a lot of these districts. Nancy Pelosi was very unpopular. And, you know, where Kevin and I could go into those districts and help our candidates, Pelosi couldn't go into any of their districts to help their troubled incumbents,” Scalise said. “And that's that was a factor I think in a lot of those close races.”
The uptick in seats provides a huge win for McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Emmer, who have likely solidified their leadership positions in the wake of the gains. Just weeks ahead of the election, multiple GOP members cautioned of a leadership shakeup in the event of the bloodbath polls were predicting. But the gains have earned leaders strong support within the conference.
“I mean this was a Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans. Kevin was intimately involved in every single one of these races and identifying good candidates, raising money — nobody works as hard as he does and I think Kevin McCarthy walks out of this election carrying our game ball,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said.