Vote splits Congress; judicial outlook called hopeful

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Voters returned control of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Democratic Party Tuesday (Nov. 6) but seemed to have strengthened the Republican Party's hold on the Senate and on its ability to confirm conservative Supreme Court justices and federal judges.

Meanwhile, at least two Southern Baptists appear to have won first-time seats in Congress, and two states approved pro-life measures among a host of ballot initiatives that were decided.

Republicans lost their majority in the House for the first time since the 2010 election during President Obama's first term. Democrats held a 222-199 advantage with 14 races still undecided as of 1 p.m. CST Nov. 7, according to CNN.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the GOP looks like it will add to its advantage with three races still undetermined. With a current, 51-seat majority, Republicans appear likely to add two or three members to their 51-46 lead, CNN reported.

Democratic control of the House will place social conservatives at a distinct disadvantage on such issues as abortion and religious freedom, but GOP command of the Senate will provide President Trump with the continuing opportunity to place on the Supreme Court justices who interpret the Constitution based on its original meaning. With a narrow majority, the Senate has confirmed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the high court in the first two years of Trump's presidency.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said, "[T]hough the results of elections yesterday resulted in a divided Congress, our commitments as Christians remain unchanged.

"We look forward to working with every elected official sent to D.C. as we carry out our mission bearing witness to the Gospel and its implications for the public square," said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press.

At the state level, Moore said he "was heartened to see" Alabama and West Virginia, the states that approved pro-life initiatives, "make clear that abortion has no place in their state constitutions." He also said he was encouraged Louisiana overturned a 138-year-old, Jim Crow-era law and returned to "a unanimous jury system of equity and justice for all."

Despite the House takeover by a party committed to abortion rights, the Senate results constituted "a clear victory for the pro-life movement," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a written statement. "In 2010, there was not a single pro-life woman in the U.S. Senate. Next year there will be at least four pro-life women" there.

Members of Southern Baptist churches won races for both the Senate and House.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a member of Second Baptist Church in Houston, defeated Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke by less than 3 percent of the vote to gain re-election.

In House races, at least two Southern Baptists, both Republicans, appeared to win election for the first time:

-- Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., claimed victory over Democrat Dan McCready, who had yet to concede the race, in North Carolina's Ninth District. Harris led by fewer than 2,000 votes with all precincts reporting.

-- Ross Spano, a member of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., defeated Democrat Kirsten Carlson by 6 percent in Florida's 15th District.

Harris, a former president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, told BP the difference in the election was "the people got our message and understood that this was a directional election, and they wanted to choose the direction that was going to continue to move our country forward, to move our district forward. I think there's support for our president's agenda."

Harris resigned as pastor in 2017 to run for the House and faced campaign attack ads that used excerpts from a 2013 sermon he preached on gender roles in marriage based on Ephesians 5.

"I also think that there was a certain amount of support that we were able to pick up because of the backlash of the way our opponent's campaign operated with their ads that took my sermons out of context and ... [they] were very disturbing to a lot of us," Harris said.

Regarding taking a seat in a House controlled by Democrats, Harris said his hope is "we will be able to find some issues and areas maybe that we can work together on. There's going to be a lot of freshmen in Congress this time in the House, Democrats and Republicans, ... and I think it's going to be important for us to begin to think and look at how we can form relationships and begin to find those areas that we can work together in and hopefully move an agenda forward.

"I don't want to prejudge anybody just because they have a 'D' by their name that we can't work together for religious freedom, that we can't work together for the sanctity of life and that we can't work together on pro-family issues," Harris said. "And so I think building the relationships is going to be very important."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on election night, according to The Washington Post, "We will strive for bipartisanship, seeking common ground, as we are responsible to do. But when we cannot find that common ground, standing our ground."

Pelosi is expected to seek the majority leader's post she surrendered when Democrats lost the House in 2010.

In gubernatorial races, Republicans held a 26-23 advantage as of 1 p.m. CST Nov. 7, CNN reported. Among the Democrats elected to office was the country's first openly gay governor, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis.

Voters in 37 states made decisions on 155 initiatives that included these issues:

-- Abortion: Alabama and West Virginia approved amendments that make clear their state constitutions do not provide a right to abortion or require its public funding. The votes prepare those states for a future in which the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion is overturned, returning the regulation of the procedure to the states. Oregon, meanwhile, easily defeated a measure to ban state funding of abortion.

-- Marijuana: Michigan voters endorsed legalization of recreational marijuana while North Dakota rejected such a measure. The medicinal use of marijuana won approval in Missouri and Utah, although two related proposals in Missouri went down to defeat.

-- Gambling: Arkansas passed a proposal legalizing casino gambling in four counties, while Idaho rejected a proposition to legalize betting on historical horse racing. Florida approved an amendment banning wagering on dog races, as well as another to give voters the sole right to authorize casino gambling.

-- Ten Commandments: Alabama voters passed a constitutional amendment permitting the display of the Ten Commandments on public property, including public schools.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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