Several Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee whom Republicans had targeted for defeat won re-election Tuesday, helping stem the massive mid-term losses that first-term presidents have traditionally faced.
Republicans still have a strong shot of winning control of the House when all the votes are counted, since the GOP only needed a net gain of five seats. But Republicans are nowhere near the 63-seat gain they got in 2010 or the 40-seat swing Democrats achieved in 2018.
And in a reprise of 2020, Senate control may come down to a runoff in Georgia. Republicans only need to gain one seat, but Democrats flipped one in Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman overcame a stroke to defeat Republican Mehmet Oz.. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is retiring.
Three other races involving Democratic incumbents were too close to call Wednesday morning, including Georgia, where Senate Agriculture Committee member Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., narrowly led football star Herschel Walker. A runoff will be triggered if neither candidate gets 50% of the vote.
Walker, whose campaign was hit by allegations that he had once paid for abortions, had received 200,000 votes fewer than GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s total in his successful re-election race, as of Wednesday morning.
Two other seats held by Democrats remained too close to call, in Arizona and Nevada. In the race where Republicans thought they had the best chance to win, GOP challenger Adam Laxalt held a narrow lead over Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Elsewhere in the Senate, Iowa farmer and GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley easily won an eighth term. Grassley, 89, will be the oldest Republican in the Senate and the second oldest member. California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein is three months older.
In Ohio, author and GOP political newcomer J.D. Vance bested Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, also won re-election. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., wasn’t on the ballot this year.
Winning the Senate would allow Republicans to block or slow down President Joe Biden's nominees while also controlling the legislative agenda. Winning the House would likely spur battles with Democrats over spending, while ensuring Republicans could launch investigations of the administration heading into the 2024 election.
The implications for the next farm bill are less clear, since the legislation would ultimately need bipartisan support in the Senate to get to Biden's desk.
The GOP targets in the House included Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who chairs the House Ag subcommittee that oversees conservation programs, and Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop, a member of House Ag who also chairs the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes the annual spending bill for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
They won re-election along with fellow Ag Committee Democrats Angie Craig of Minnesota, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, all top GOP targets.
Some other races involving committee members were too close to call Wednesday afternoon, including Democrats Jahana Hayes in Connecticut and Kim Schrier in Washington. Hayes had a razor-thin lead Wednesday afternoon, and Schrier also was head as the counting continued.
In Iowa, House Ag Democrat Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, entered election night facing an uphill battle to keep her seat representing a district that includes the Des Moines metro area as well as a swath of the southern part of the state. Iowa's Secretary of State's office shows with 21 of the district's 21 counties reporting, GOP state Sen. Zach Nunn holds a lead of about 2,150 votes, but no national outlets have called him as the winner.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., conceded defeat Wednesday morning to GOP strategist Michael Lawler. Ironically, Maloney chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which put him in the tough spot of trying to preserve the Democratic majority with a relatively unpopular president. He chose to run in a new district this year - the redrawn 17th - that takes in rural areas north of New York City.
Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., lost his re-election bid. He was victim of redistricting. The Republican Legislature gutted his current district, and he unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rep. Neal Dunn in the new, heavily Republican 2nd District.
But Republicans lost their newest Ag Committee member, Mayra Flores, who had won a south Texas seat this year vacated by Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela. But Democratic Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, who currently represents the 15th District, opted to run against Flores in the 34th after redistricting and defeated her.
“The RED WAVE did not happen,” Flores tweeted. “Republicans and Independents stayed home.”
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., was trailing in the vote counting Wednesday afternoon.
A vulnerable Republican on the Ag Committee, Rep. Don Bacon, won re-election to his Omaha-area district with 52% vote, defeating Democrat Tony Vargas.
Several ag districts in California also remained undecided, including seats held by GOP Rep. David Valadao, a member of the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee and Ag Committee members Jim Costa and Josh Harder, both Democrats.
Spanberger had carved out a niche on the Ag Committee on conservation and climate policy. She championed additional conservation funds targeted for climate-smart agriculture in the Democrat-only supported Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan and was a lead sponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act.
Republicans put their hopes in Yesli Vega, a veteran law enforcement officer, in a redrawn district that included portions of the Washington suburbs, which proved to be Spanberger’s firewall. President Joe Biden carried the district in 2020, and Spanberger attacked Vega on the abortion issue.
The campaign attracted big dollars. Spanberger spent $8.4 million on the race, far more than Vega’s $2.7 million. But outside groups spent another $13.3 million in support of Spanberger or against Vega. Outside groups spent $9.8 million in opposition to Spanberger and another $1.7 for Vega.
Bishop got on the Ag Committee for this Congress as he prepared to face re-election and overcame a challenge from Republican Chris West, who operates an agricultural business in south Georgia.
In Minnesota, Craig won a rematch with rematch Republican Tyler Kistner, whom she had defeated in 2020. The 2nd District includes the southern portion of the Twin Cities metro area as well as farming counties. Like Spanberger, she made an issue of abortion rights as well as her support for the Inflation Reduction Act.
Redistricting made Kaptur, who also is a member of the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, more vulnerable to a GOP challenge this year. But she worked to reach rural voters, at one point hosting a House Ag listening session to hear from farmers. “Republicans thought that they could redistrict out Marcy Kaptur, and that's not going to work out for them,” said Ohio farmer Chris Gibbs, founder and board chairman of Rural Voices USA.
Also in Ohio, Democrat Rep. Shontel Brown soundly clinched her seat. Brown took over the seat of Rep. Marcia Fudge, who represented her urban constituency but with an eye toward understanding the importance of production agriculture, said Bill Patterson, Ohio Farm Bureau president. “We see Shontel Brown as a key advocate for agriculture as we look to bridge the rural/urban divide here,” said Patterson.
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