TUCKED AWAY on a side street, in a strip mall between a barber and a couple of empty storefronts, Panadería Oaxaqueña, a modest bakery that smells of yeast and cinnamon, is a hub for Columbus’s growing Latino population. For 20 years, the Cruz-Santos family has been baking conchas, bolillos, and pan de yema; some of their customers, says Alfa Cruz-Santos, the 22-year-old daughter of the owners, stop in twice a day, every day. But after the 2016 election, their customers began calling them to ask if they would deliver bread instead. “People were asking if it was safe to go out,” says Ms Cruz-Santos. Over the course of those anxious conversations, the Cruz-Santos family began encouraging their customers, many of them first-generation Americans, to do something that they had not previously done: vote. Precise turnout figures will not be known for weeks, but the New York Times estimates that more than 114m people cast ballots—fewer than the 138m people who voted in the 2016 presidential election, but well over the 83m who turned out for the last mid-terms, in 2014.
In some House districts, turnout approached presidential-year levels. The Democratic Party did especially well in swing districts. Twenty such places backed Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016; the Democrats won 13 of these. Thirteen districts went from backing Mitt Romney, Mr Obama’s opponent in 2012, to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Democrats won ten. They flipped 17 of the 24 districts that backed Mrs Clinton in 2016 but also voted for a Republican congressman. Most of these were in wealthy, suburban areas where Mr Trump has grown unpopular. Barbara Comstock, a two-term Republican representative in a suburban Virginia district abutting Washington, was thwacked by her Democratic challenger by 12 points.
Compared with the previous mid-terms in 2014, Democrats gained most votes in whiter areas that had backed Mr Trump—perhaps because they campaigned primarily on health care. They now hold three of Iowa’s four congressional seats. Steve King, a white nationalist, fended off a tough challenge in the state’s rural west. Depending on the outcome in Maine, where the introduction of ranked-choice voting makes results slow to count, Bruce Poliquin could wind up as the sole Republican congressman from New England.
Among the new entrants in January will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress—Rashida Tlaib from Michigan and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota—and the first Native American women: Sharice Davids from Kansas and Deb Haaland from New Mexico. A majority of voters were women. At least 100 will serve in the next House of Representatives, exceeding the previous record of 84.
How will this change the way the federal government operates? Democrats are unlikely to obstruct everything. Nancy Pelosi, who will probably return as Speaker, has expressed interest in co-operating with Mr Trump in three areas: infrastructure, reducing the price of prescription drugs and cleaning up Washington. “It was Candidate Trump’s plan to address all three of these things, but he’s failed to deliver on them,” says Cheri Bustos, a congresswoman from Illinois who co-chairs the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which refines the party’s message.
Infrastructure seems the likeliest to come to something. The White House and Senate Democrats have already released competing infrastructure proposals. Mr Trump likes putting his name on big things, and his base is less doctrinaire about bridges than about birthright citizenship. Yet the scale of the Republican reversal in the House may make this approach harder. The Republican congressmen who lost were mainly moderates from swing districts who might have backed bipartisan legislation.
And though Mr Trump may have entered office as a dealmaker, as president he has shown little interest in working with the other side. He considers base-rallying more important. House Democrats could try to match him. They believe health care, more than any other issue, won them a majority. They might propose bills shoring up the Affordable Care Act, and challenge Mr Trump to block them. They could revive the DREAM Act, a broadly popular measure to protect illegal immigrants brought to America as children from deportation, again forcing Republicans to respond in a way that is unpopular with their base or a majority of the public. Legislation to protect voting rights or raise the federal minimum wage might be tempting.
But the real prize of a majority is controlling congressional committees and the investigatory and subpoena powers that go with it. Republicans have shown little interest in overseeing the administration. Democrats will launch a salvo of probes.
The House Ways and Means Committee will want to see the president’s tax returns. Democrats hope this may shed light on aspects of the president’s murky affairs relevant to national security. It might also reveal potentially embarrassing things— such as whether Mr Trump is as rich as he claims to be. If so, they would soon leak.
Three other committees will play a more conventional oversight role: the House oversight and government reform, judiciary, and intelligence committees. Elijah Cummings, prospective chairman of the oversight committee, says he wants to investigate weighty issues, such as the suppression of minority voting rights and high cost of prescription drugs. He will also look at scandal-plagued Trump officials, such as Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior.
The judiciary committee’s likely chairman, Jerry Nadler, a New Yorker who has crossed swords with Mr Trump over real-estate disputes, will also be assertive. He and fellow Democratic committee-members have shown an interest in probing controversial policies such as the separating of migrant families.
How hard Adam Schiff, next chairman of the intelligence committee, presses the administration on Russian election-hacking and the Trump campaign team’s alleged co-operation with it, may depend on what happens to Robert Mueller. If the special counsel’s grander investigation into Mr Trump’s dealings with Russia is curtailed, as the president’s decision on November 7th to force out his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, suggests it could be, Mr Schiff will play a more important role. He might become the last hope that the truth of Mr Trump and Russia will emerge.
The election also revealed much about the state of politics. Far more voters cast ballots for Democrats than for Mr Trump’s party. Yet Democrats saw a reversal in the Senate, and captured only a narrow majority in the House. Mr Trump rallied his troops by sowing fear of a few thousand bedraggled Central Americans hundreds of miles from America’s border. That rally did not extend much beyond his existing supporters. But arguably it did not need to. The odds of the Republicans holding the Senate in 2020 have now shortened considerably.
“You can’t win a country by being prejudiced,” said Cassandra Thomas, voting at a Columbus precinct a few miles from Panadería Oaxaqueña. “You can’t keep people down who helped build the country.” That is one reading of the mid-term results. Another is that fear and loathing are powerful campaign tools.