They talked optimistically for weeks about expanding the map against Republicans. Democrats were playing more on offense in a number of states. But when the votes came in on Tuesday night, it was Republicans who prevailed in tough races, cutting into the Democratic majority in the House and possibly keeping control of the Senate.
“There was no massive battlefield for @DCCC and @HouseDemocrats,” tweeted Michael McAdams, the spokesman for the election arm of Congressional Republicans.
The only two seats Democrats picked up were courtesy of court-ordered redistricting in the state of North Carolina, which provided Democrats with two easy victories, as a giant fundraising advantage did little.
As of Wednesday morning, Democrats were still looking for their first win against a GOP incumbent - as just one Republican trailed in Arizona (Schweikert), along with one GOP lawmaker in California (Garcia).
In the Senate, Democrats knocked off Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, and Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado - but fell short in every other race which had been decided on Tuesday night.
As of 8 am on Wednesday, Republicans had won 6 new seats, compared to two for Democrats, for a four seat pickup.
But Democrats were staring at other possible losses, with a dozen incumbents trailing in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California.
For a time on Tuesday night, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) - the Democrat in charge of House re-election efforts - was actually losing her race, but a late surge put her in position to win another term in Congress, barely.
The results were not only a rebuke for Democrats and their House leaders, but also for Congressional election experts who in unison forecast the possibility of major gains by Democrats in the House and Senate.
The outcome in the House raised immediate questions about the future of Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In 1998, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned days after his party unexpectedly lost five seats in the House, partly a backlash against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
The Democrats who lost seats on Tuesday included two women lawmakers in the Miami area, as Rep. Debbie Murcasel-Powell and Rep. Donna Shalala both lost, in part because of a strong showing by President Trump among Cuban-American and Latino voters in South Florida.
Also defeated was veteran Rep. Colin Peterson (D-MN), who had held on to a more rural district in northern Minnesota even as the voters there turned more Republican.
In Charleston, South Carolina, freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) lost his seat, and in New Mexico, Republicans knocked off first term Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
And there was still the possibility that more Democratic incumbents would fall, as a dozen were trailing on Wednesday morning.