Republicans solidified their hold on the Senate in Tuesday's elections, ensuring that President Donald Trump can continue reshaping the judiciary over the next two years, but Democrats ended the GOP’s eight-year hold on the House. 

The Democratic takeover of the House will put progressive firebrands in charge of several committees important to agricultural and environmental policy and likely force Trump and his administration onto the defensive with investigations, subpoenas and oversight hearings.  

At least one Republican member on the House Agriculture Committee was among the GOP losers: John Faso in New York’s Hudson Valley. Another was in a close race to keep his seat, Jeff Denham in California’s Central Valley. By early this morning, Denham was leading his Democratic challenger, Josh Harder, by a 50.6 to 49.4 percent margin, with thousands of votes left to count.

The exact size of the GOP Senate majority won’t be known until later this month. In a special election, Mississippi GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was forced into a Nov. 27 runoff with former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy because a third candidate, conservative Chris McDaniel, sliced off a sizable portion of the GOP vote on Tuesday. Hyde-Smith, a former state agriculture commissioner, was appointed to replace Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

Republicans went into the night with a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate but seized at least three seats that Democrats held in states that Trump carried in 2016: Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was losing to GOP Gov. Rick Scott, but the race could be headed for a recount. In Montana, Democratic incumbent Jon Tester's race against GOP State Auditor Matt Rosendale was too close to call. Republicans stood to lose at least one seat: Nevada incumbent Dean Heller conceded his race early Wednesday.

A larger majority would give GOP leaders more leeway than they've had over the past two years on critical confirmation votes. 

In addition to paving the way for confirmation of more conservative judges, maintaining Senate control will also help Trump get cabinet nominations confirmed. 

“The bottom line is the conservative judicial train will keep running,” Sen. Lindsey Graham , R-S.C., said on the Fox News Channel. 

Graham attributed the GOP Senate victories in red states to the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination as well as the strong economy and concern about illegal immigration. 

Rural areas were critical to the GOP upsets, and that was especially clear in Missouri, where incumbent Claire McCaskill lost badly to state Attorney General Josh Hawley. McCaskill easily carried St. Louis and Jackson (Kansas City) counties but lost by significant margins in most of the rest of the state. The president of the Missouri Farm bureau, Blake Hurst, called Hawley's victory "a tremendous win for rural Missouri."

Twenty-eight percent of Missouri voters identified themselves as rural and 71 percent of them voted for Hawley, according to an exit poll conducted by CNN and other networks. A smaller majority of suburban voters, which were 37 percent of the electorate, also favored the Republican. 

In Indiana, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly won 51 percent of urban voters, which wasn’t nearly enough to overcome Braun’s performance with rural and suburban voters, according to the exit poll. 

There was no sign that Trump’s trade wars hurt GOP candidates significantly, given the Republican victories in such major farm states as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. 

In a victory speech late Tuesday night, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would focus on pocketbook issues, such as improving infrastructure and lowering prices for prescription drugs. “A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division,” she said. 

The likely new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, is one of the most conservative Democrats and he faced one of the closest races in his career Tuesday. 

But other new committee chairs generally favor heavier regulation of most industries, including agriculture, and have high voting scores with the League of Conservation Voters, an arm of the environmental movement, and Food Policy Action, a coalition of groups that favor tougher environmental and consumer regulation and promote smaller scale agriculture. 

The shift in control could spur leaders of the top four farm bill negotiators to reach a deal before the end of the year rather than leave it to the Democratic House to write a new bill. The crop insurance industry, for example, is concerned that cuts or restrictions on the program would more easily pass a Democratic House. 

Democrats had mixed success in gubernatorial races. They were unable to wrest away governorships in Florida, Iowa and Ohio, but Democratic candidates won GOP seats relatively easily in Kansas and Illinois. Two House Agriculture Committee Democrats were elected governors Tuesday: Tim Walz in Minnesota and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico. A former GOP member of the committee, Kristi Noem, won the South Dakota governorship. (See our complete story on governor's races in this week's newsletter.)

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