(CNN) -- Democrats will keep control of the House, CNN projects, but likely with a smaller majority after some of their incumbents lost and challengers failed to pick up top-targeted GOP seats.
Heading into Election Day, Democrats were optimistic about expanding their majority. That didn't happen. At least seven Democrats lost their seats, including a handful of freshmen who had flipped districts in 2018 that had backed President Donald Trump in 2016. Meanwhile, Republicans held on in suburban areas where Democrats were hoping to make inroads.
The disappointing finish for Democrats, coupled with the likelihood of Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, was already prompting venting and finger-pointing among congressional Democrats this week, even with Joe Biden winning the White House.
Democrats made historic gains in the 2018 midterms when they took the House back from Republicans after being shut out of power in Washington following the 2016 elections when Trump won the White House and Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.
Republicans had hoped to go on the offensive in 2020 by targeting Democratic lawmakers in Trump districts. When the House voted to impeach the President, Republicans vowed that moderate Democrats would pay a price at the ballot box and warned that impeachment would cost the party their majority. They eventually pivoted to a message about law and order in many districts, trying to tie Democratic candidates to the "defund the police" movement and to the national party.
Amid the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic fallout, it looked as if the political landscape would benefit Democrats by the closing weeks of the 2020 election, which saw Democrats -- flush in cash -- competing in once-red House districts, while Republicans worked to stem their losses.
But Republicans outperformed the expectations of many pollsters and pundits. And while still in the minority, Republicans also elected a record number of non-incumbent women to the House.
Republicans ousted several Democratic incumbents in districts that backed Trump in the last election, including freshman Democratic Reps. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico. They also defeated the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, 15-term Rep. Collin Peterson, whose rural Minnesota district strongly backed Trump four years ago.
Democratic incumbents also suffered losses in South Florida, where they may have been dragged down by Latino support for Trump at the top of the ticket with freshman Democratic Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala both losing reelection.
The GOP held onto a number of seats in districts that Democrats had targeted this year and hoped to flip, even in suburban areas that had looked to be moving away from the President. Republicans also put Michigan's 3rd District back in their column after losing it when Rep. Justin Amash, now a Libertarian, left the GOP.
Democrats did flip two seats in North Carolina that court-mandated redistricting had redrawn to be much more favorable to them and were widely expected to go blue.
Privately, Democrats are venting, with moderates accusing liberals of pushing policies easily demonized by Republicans that made it harder to win their races. Liberals argue that it's the progressive policies that are turning out the base -- not incremental approaches favored by centrist members. And many are second-guessing decisions by party leaders, including the failure of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to cut a big-ticket stimulus deal in the weeks before the election.
On a tense call Thursday, Pelosi tried to rally her troops by making the argument that Biden had achieved a "mandate" for Democrats -- and that House Democratic losses had more to do with lawmakers running in conservative districts where Trump's base turned out in droves to help reelect the President, according to sources on the call.
"We did not win every battle, but we won the war," Pelosi told her colleagues, sources said.
Manu Raju contributed to this report.