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Partisan warfare looms after US voters deliver split verdict

Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives while Republicans held on to the Senate in US midterm elections AFP

US President Donald Trump faced the prospect of bitter partisan warfare on Wednesday after a midterm election delivered a split verdict and revealed a country still sharply divided along party lines.

Trump and Democrats emboldened by seizing control of the House of Representatives fired off warning shots even before the dust had settled on Tuesday's vote.

"We will conduct the investigations that Republicans wouldn't conduct," Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell of California said on NBC's "Today" show.

"We'll fill in the gaps on the Russia investigations," he said of the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump presidential election campaign colluded with Moscow. "American people will see his tax returns."

Trump made it clear he would fight back.

"If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified information, and much else, at the Senate level," he said.

"Two can play that game!"

"The president's not nervous about anything," Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said on CNN.

Trump, who will face reelection in 2020, is scheduled to hold a press conference at 11:30 am (1630 GMT) to discuss an election that he described on Twitter as a "tremendous success" and a "Big Victory."

"To any of the pundits or talking heads that do not give us proper credit for this great Midterm Election, just remember two words - FAKE NEWS!" he said on Twitter.

- 'Intensified fighting' -

Republicans held on to the Senate in Tuesday's election and appear to have even increased their majority in the 100-member body to 53 seats, up from 51.

But Democrats made solid gains in the 435-member House and appear to have won around 229 seats, according to projections by The New York Times.

Like in the 2016 presidential election, rural areas went heavily for Republicans while urban areas broke towards the Democrats.

More women than men voted for Democrats, according to exit polls, particularly white suburban women, and the new House will feature a record number of women lawmakers.

Democrats will take over from Republicans on House commmitees, giving them the power to hold hearings, call witnesses and issue subpoenas to administration officials.

"There will be intensified fighting," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"There is now a veto in the system to limit Trump and the Senate -- though Trump will use executive orders to bypass Congress," Sabato said.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to return as speaker of the House despite opposition from some centrist Democrats, promised that the party will serve as a counterweight -- but also work with Trump.

"Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It's about restoring the constitution's checks and balances to the Trump administration," Pelosi said.

But she added: "A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together, because we have all had enough of division."

Trump spoke to Pelosi following the election, Conway said, and appeared to extend an olive branch to her on Wednesday morning.

"In all fairness, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be chosen Speaker of the House by the Democrats," Trump tweeted. "If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes. She has earned this great honor!"

- Historic firsts -

Tuesday's contest saw several historic firsts in the Democratic camp: in Kansas, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women elected to Congress.

And in the Midwest, onetime Somali refugee Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, shared the historic distinction of becoming the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

But the rosiest expectations of some Democrats -- that they could create a "blue wave" even when playing defense on the Senate map -- proved unfounded.

Republicans defeated several Democratic senators in states won by Trump -- Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

Republican candidates were leading in Arizona and Montana although Democrats appear to have picked off a Republican senate seat in Nevada.

Trump campaigned aggressively in the closing days on a hardline anti-immigration message.

He seized on scenes of a caravan of Central American migrants heading for the United States and sent soldiers to the Mexican border, threatening to have illegal immigrants shot if they throw stones.

Democrats claimed some high-profile victories, with former American football player Colin Allred defeating Pete Sessions, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, in suburban Dallas.

But also in Texas, Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, a charismatic congressman and former punk rocker, fell short against Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Turnout appeared to be high for a midterm election.

According to Michael McDonald of the US Elections Project, 38.4 million Americans cast their ballots early, compared with 27.4 million in the 2014 midterm.

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