Republicans Gain Ground in Push to Take House as Democrats Hold Off Red Wave

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Tuesday gained ground in their push to take control of the House, although Democrats appeared to be holding their own against hard-right G.O.P. candidates in crucial districts as they grasped to defend their narrow majority.

Republicans were on the brink of flipping a handful of crucial House seats in Florida and Virginia, putting the party closer to netting the five seats they needed to win control. That would position them to thwart President Biden’s policy agenda and aggressively investigate his every move.

Key Senate races remained too close to call.

But far from the red blood bath that Republicans had forecast in the fight for control of Congress, early results indicated that Democrats had held off some of the bleakest forces that have historically left the president’s party with sizable losses in midterm elections. It raised the specter of a narrow Republican majority in the House, shaped by an ascendant hard-right flank loyal to former President Donald J. Trump, that would struggle to perform the basic tasks of governance even as it used its power to take aim at Mr. Biden and score political points against Democrats.

Early returns on Tuesday night showed voters delivering a mixed verdict after an extraordinary election cycle that was driven, at least on the surface, by concerns about soaring inflation and rising crime, but played out amid a swirl of other factors: a deeply unpopular president, a landmark Supreme Court decision upending abortion rights, and the fallout from a right-wing insurrection — with Mr. Trump and his influence looming over it all.

Republicans were on their way to flipping two open seats in Florida held by Democrats that had been redrawn to include more conservative voters. In at least one of those races, a hard-right Republican, Anna Paulina Luna, was set to replace a retiring Democrat, Representative Charlie Crist who had prided himself on his moderate credentials.

They picked up a critical seat in Virginia Beach, after Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia, a Democrat and member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, conceded to Jen. A Kiggans, a Republican state senator.

“Please don’t boo,” Ms. Luria said to her supporters, who were clearly upset as she acknowledged the loss at a campaign watch party. “The success of this district depends on her success.”

But Democrats hung on in competitive races against hard-right Republicans in a crucial district in central Virginia, as well as contests in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, scuttling G.O.P. hopes of notching early, overwhelming victories.

“Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on NBC.

Representative Abigail Spanberger, whose victory in 2018 helped Democrats secure the House majority, narrowly survived a challenge from Yesli Vega, a hard-right Republican and sheriff’s deputy. Democrats had been optimistic that Ms. Spanberger, one of their strongest candidates, would be able to fend off Ms. Vega, who was scrutinized for remarks she made suggesting that women’s bodies prevent pregnancies from rape. They had worried that a loss in the Northern Virginia exurbs would signal a difficult night to come.

Democrats also were relieved to hold an open seat in Rhode Island in a district that Mr. Biden had won by over a dozen points. Privately, some in the party had expected to lose the seat, citing the strength of the Republican candidate, Allan Fung.

A former mayor, Mr. Fung had campaigned to be a “voice of moderation” in Congress, but narrowly lost the seat to Seth Magaziner, the state’s general treasurer. His loss was a sign that it would not be as easy as Republicans had hoped for even their best candidates to make inroads in traditionally blue districts.

Republicans were still confident that they would pick off seats that were held by Democrats but vacated by popular incumbents, including in districts in Wisconsin and Arizona.

Despite the mixed results, Republicans appeared on track to increase their numbers and add to their increasingly influential right wing, as hard-right G.O.P. candidates in safe Republican seats cruised to victory. They were poised to elect dozens of candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as well as a few who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as loyalists of Mr. Trump violently stormed the building, disrupting the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory.

In Oklahoma, Josh Brecheen, a fourth-generation rancher and former state senator, was set to replace Representative Markwayne Mullin, who was running for Senate. Mr. Brecheen, who as a state legislator introduced bills against teaching evolution in school, had pledged that he would not allow himself to “be groomed for conformity into moderate positions and debt spending by the Republican establishment.”

Republicans appeared to be building toward a House majority won largely by candidates whom the party for years had struggled to recruit: women and people of color with powerful personal stories, many of them rooted in military service.

Still, a narrow House Republican majority would likely be shaped by the party’s restive far-right wing, whose members have shown little interest in legislating and instead have fashioned themselves in Mr. Trump’s image, demonstrating a keen appetite for exacting vengeance on the Biden administration.

Months before Election Day, right-wing lawmakers were already demanding their party use the power of the House majority to impeach Mr. Biden as well as members of his cabinet, including his secretary of state, his attorney general and his homeland security secretary.

A Republican-led House with a narrow majority could also struggle to keep the government funded and prevent the country from defaulting on its debt, which would plunge the global financial system into chaos. And several hard-right lawmakers have publicly threatened to leverage their power in the majority to cut off the flow of American aid to Ukraine, though the hawkish lawmakers in line to lead the House’s national security committees have pushed back on the idea.

Stephanie Lai, Emily Cochrane, and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

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