Democratic challengers have unseated Republicans in at least 17 closely watched House races, moving the party closer to its long-sought goal of recapturing control of the House, according to projections based on exit polls and early returns from Tuesday's midterm elections.

Republicans, however, will retain control of the U.S. Senate - and may even increase their majority, after winning closely-fought races in Indiana, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

In Florida, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, - a back-bench House member who had based his campaign around his loyalty to President Donald Trump - defeated Tallahasee Mayor Andrew Gillum, D, in the race for governor. Most recent polls had shown Gillum ahead. In his concession speech, Gillum said "I sincerely regret that I couldn't bring it home for you, but I can guarantee you this: I'm not going anywhere," according to media reports. In Kansas, by contrast, Republican Kris Kobach - an advocate for tighter immigration laws who also tied himself to Trump - was defeated, losing to Democrat Laura Kelly.

Democrats won races in several Republican-held seats, in states from Florida to Kansas. That moved them closer to taking the House majority for the first time since 2011, when the "tea party" wave swamped Democrats in President Barack Obama's first midterm elections.

In victory, Democrats regained some of the confidence - although less of the power - they lost in 2016, when Trump won a surprise victory over Hillary Clinton. In this election, they sought to energize groups that Clinton did not: young voters, Latinos, African Americans and infrequent voters.

They were helped by an inadvertent spokesman: Trump himself. The first two chaotic years of his administration - marked by staff turnover, a torrent of falsehoods, and insults toward immigrants, U.S. allies and the news media - unified a Democratic Party that had fractured between center and left. The result was a huge increase in turnout, in part from voters who had never voted before.

By winning the House, Democrats will gain a powerful new pedestal to investigate Trump's administration, his personal finances, and the hotels, golf courses and other businesses he still owns. They are also likely to press for details about the 2016 election, asking whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government's efforts to sow misinformation and pro-Trump messages.

But, even in victory, Democrats saw the limits of their coalition - as Republicans snuffed out Democrats' hopes of winning the Senate. Indeed, the GOP seemed likely to increase its majority, by holding on to key seats in Texas and Tennessee and winning Democrat-held seats in North Dakota and Indiana.

So Democrats got the House, but did not get what they'd hoped for: a full rejection of Trump, who has governed with an unusual chaotic style, and who closed out this campaign with a torrent of falsehoods, and a demonization of immigrants and the news media. In many places, it appeared, Trump's approach was enough - making it unclear what divided government might look like, with such a cultural gulf between the two houses Congress.

At about 10 p.m. Eastern time, Democrats had won Republican-held seats in Florida, Virginia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York and Minnesota. Among the victors: Jennifer Wexton, who unseated Rep. Barbara Comstock in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, District of Columbia, and Sharice Davids, who won a GOP-held seat in Kansas. Davids, a former mixed martial-arts fighter, will be the first Native American woman to serve in Congress.

In the races for the Senate, Republicans have taken a key seat in Indiana held by Sen. Joe Donnelly, R. They also kept a seat in Texas, as Sen. Ted Cruz defeated challenger Beto O'Rourke, and held onto the seat in Tennessee held by retiring Sen. Bob Corker, R. In Florida, Republican Rick Scott also holds a narrow lead over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D, though that race remains too close to call. For Democrats, the best news in the Senate was that they held on to at least five seats in states won by President Trump in 2016, including West Virginia - where Sen. Joe Manchin, D, won reelection in a state that went for Trump by 20 points.

In other Senate races, Democrats won reelection in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, all states that Trump carried in 2016 on his way to a surprise election victory. At one point, two years ago, Democrats might have rejoiced to win these states in "Trump country" - but they entered Tuesday with much higher hopes, believing that even control of the Senate might be in their grasp. Major Senate races remain undecided in Arizona, Nevada and Montana.

In Virginia, Comstock had been seen as one of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, representing a swath of suburbia that had voted heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. But the scale of her defeat was still notable: With 67 percent of precincts reporting, she was down by 17 percentage points.

Anecdotal reports from around the country indicated that turnout was far above the levels from other recent midterms - and, in some cases, even approaching the levels from the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier on Tuesday, new polling showed that voters cited Trump and health care as two of the most important factors as they chose their candidates in the midterm election, according to preliminary results from a Washington Post-Schar School survey of battleground districts. About 4 in 10 of those surveyed said one of those topics - Trump or health care - was among the two most important issues in their vote.

The economy and immigration were close behind, with roughly one-third saying each was one of the top two issues in their vote. Just over one-fifth said taxes was one of the top issues, followed by Supreme Court appointments. Fewer than 1 in 10 voters said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., - who could become the speaker if Democrats win control of the House - was one of the biggest factors in their vote.

"In some places, Trump was even more important to voters. In Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where Comstock was projected to be defeated, 56 percent of voters said Trump was one of the two most important factors in their vote.

Roughly 8 in 10 voters rated the economy positively, after months of job and wage growth, but even so, a small majority said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. About four in 10 respondents said they felt anger about this year's election, while 2 in 10 said they felt patriotic.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among voters across 69 competitive congressional districts and released Tuesday afternoon, as top Democrats predicted their party would take control of the House.

Tuesday's midterm served as a referendum on the chaotic and divisive first two years of Trump's presidency. As the first national election since Trump's presidential upset in 2016, it gave Democrats an opportunity to capitalize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP.

At stake Tuesday was control of the House, the Senate, 36 governorships and hundreds of state positions, with dozens of key races remaining tight around the country. Republicans were cautiously optimistic about keeping their majority in the Senate.

Early voting tallies suggested record-breaking interest in the election, the most expensive midterm in history. With more than 38 million votes counted as early or absentee before Tuesday morning, 35 states reported early-vote totals that surpassed those in 2014.

Democrats were upbeat about their chance of winning the House after campaigns that emphasized kitchen-table issues and sought to harness opposition to Trump among suburban women and college graduates. The party had entered Tuesday's contests with a historical advantage, since the president's party typically loses more than dozen seats in his first midterm elections.

Asked Tuesday if she was 100 percent sure of a Democratic victory in the lower chamber, Pelosi said "Yes, I am."

To win congressional majorities, Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate. But the latter posed an enormous challenge in light of the 10 Senate seats Democrats were defending in states Trump won in 2016.

Republicans said throughout the campaign that Democrats would block Trump's agenda while allowing undocumented immigrants and liberal "mobs" to overtake communities.

Trump, in his final campaign swing, repeatedly told supporters that Democratic victories would threaten their safety and stability.

"They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and blood thirsty MS-13 killers," he said at a rally in Cleveland on Monday.

"There's only one way to end this lawless assault on our dignity, our sovereignty, and on our borders, and that's by voting Republican tomorrow," he said.

In the past few weeks, Trump has proposed revoking birthright citizenship, repeatedly called a migrant caravan headed for the United States from Mexico as an "invasion," sent more than 7,000 troops to the border to block it from entering the country and released a campaign ad that major television networks deemed too racist to air.

This hard-line approach to immigration politics in the final stage of the campaign defied conventional wisdom among establishment Republicans, who wished Trump would focus on the good economy and the party's tax cuts. Trump said Monday that he regretted not having a "softer tone" at times, but returned to form hours later by attacking Democrats at campaign rallies.

Trump had no public events scheduled for Tuesday and spent part of the morning on Twitter promoting GOP candidates and criticizing Democrats. He campaigned on Monday in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, states he won in 2016 where Republicans are hoping to flip Democratic Senate seats.

Senate races were down to the wire in several states where Democrats were defending seats, including Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Florida.

With Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., expected to lose to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., the party would have to hold their other seats and pick up three of the four available in Nevada, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona to win a majority. Nevada and Arizona appeared to afford the best chance, though the races were tight headed into Tuesday.

Civil rights groups and election officials fielded thousands of reports of voting irregularities throughout the day.

In Snellville, a rural town in northern Georgia, people said that the line to vote at Annistown Elementary School was hours long because of problems with voting machines.

Gabe Okeye, chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, suspected foul play given the county's importance in the election.

"Look at the people here," Okeye said, pointing to the African-American voters coming in and out of the school. "People here don't have time to wait. The people who came this morning and left, none of them voted. Once you discourage them like that, they're not coming back to vote. It's simple. Every advantage here is being chipped away. ... If you're going to play tricks anywhere, you're going to do it here."

Political observers had a close eye on Georgia, where Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams was running in a tight race to become the country's first black female governor, and Republican Rep. Karen Handel's race was expected to serve as a bellwether for the direction of the House.

In Minneapolis, roughly 90 people had lined up to vote in the hip North Loop neighborhood as polling places opened at 7 a.m.

"I don't like the direction this country is going in as far as the White House," said Shannon Whiton, a 43-year-old engineer who identified herself as a Democrat. She said she wants her vote to support more political unity.

By 7:30 a.m. in San Antonio, only a few people had arrived to vote at a middle school on the city's overwhelmingly Mexican American south side.

"It's been a trickle so far, but there was very heavy early voting," said Tony Villanueva, 52, who stood at the parking lot entrance holding signs supporting a Democratic candidate for state legislature.

In the upscale San Antonio suburb of Alamo Heights, 30-year-old programmer Stephen Matheis said he voted a straight Republican ticket, though he dislikes Trump.

The self-identified Republican said he had benefited financially from Trump's policies and that electing a Democratic Congress would only result in gridlock. But he made clear that he takes issue with the president's approach.

"I don't like what he says, what he tweets, who he hangs around with," he said.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that 50 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic House candidates, compared with 43 percent for Republicans.

Former president Barack Obama, stumping for Democratic candidates in recent days, had framed the campaign as a fight for America's soul.

"Today is the day," he wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "Today, it's your turn to raise your voice to change the course of this country for the better."

In an op-ed, Vice President Mike Pence said the election was a choice between "results or resistance."

"President Trump and I urge the American people to re-elect Republican majorities to Congress to deliver more results. Imagine where we'll be two years from now," Pence wrote Tuesday in USA Today.

This article was written by Elise Viebeck, David A. Fahrenthold and Scott Clement, reporters for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Dudley Althaus in San Antonio; Robert Moore in El Paso; Tory Van Oot in Minneapolis; Sonam Vashi in Snellville, Georgia; and Philip Bump, Amy Gardner, Emily Guskin, Paul Kane, Beth Reinhard and Matt Viser in Washington contributed to this report.