Republicans were assured of keeping their majority in the House and were hoping to expand it, as they ousted four Texas Democrats yesterday and protected hard-pressed incumbents in Kentucky, North Carolina, Connecticut, Nevada and elsewhere.
The GOP appeared likely to pick up at least three House seats, although Democrats said they might block those gains by sweeping a handful of contests where ballots were still being counted. On a day in which an overwhelming number of House incumbents survived, Texas was the key to the probable increase in the GOP margin, now 24 seats.
Democrats had a few bright spots, defending tough seats in Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota and Georgia, and ousting the House's longest-serving Republican, Philip M. Crane of Illinois. Democrats also defeated first-term Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.).
Elsewhere, however, Democrats missed several opportunities to knock off vulnerable Republicans. That failure, coupled with the Texas setbacks, left them no hope of picking up the 12 seats they needed to regain the majority they lost a decade ago.
The strong GOP showing validated the strategy of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who guided the Texas legislature in redrawing the state's 32 House districts to maximize Republican victories. The redistricting process triggered court challenges and Democratic denunciations, but it clearly paid off yesterday.
Just as DeLay had planned, his state became a graveyard for several Democratic veterans. Thirteen-term Rep. Martin Frost (D) lost to four-term Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in a bitter Dallas face-off, and Rep. Charles W. Stenholm -- another Democrat with 26 years in the House -- lost to first-term Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R) in the panhandle. Four-term Rep. Max Sandlin (D) fell to former judge Louis Gohmert (R), and four-term Rep. Nicholas V. Lampson (D) lost to another Republican former judge, Ted Poe.
The only targeted Democrat who survived the strategy was Rep. Chet Edwards, who defeated state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R) in a district stretching from Fort Worth to Waco.
Coupled with the enlarged GOP majority in the Senate, the House results appear likely to give Republicans a slightly stronger hand in enacting their agenda and marginalizing Democratic lawmakers. In many respects, however, the House will be little changed in the 109th Congress, which convenes in January. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is almost certain to keep his post, as will DeLay, his top lieutenant.
The top Democrats -- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) -- also were reelected and will retain their leadership posts.
In state after state, Democrats ran spirited but unsuccessful challenges against targeted GOP members. In western North Carolina, Patsy Keever (D) failed to topple Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R). In Indiana, Rep. John N. Hostettler (R) held off Democrat Jon Jennings, and Rep. Chris Chocola (R) survived Democratic businessman Joe Donnelly's bid. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) was locked in a tight duel with GOP businessman Mike Sodrel, who lost to Hill in 2002.
In Connecticut, two-term Rep. Rob Simmons (R) held off Norwich city councilman Jim Sullivan (D), and nine-term Rep. Christopher Shays (R) appeared to survive a strong bid by Diane Farrell (D).
Kentucky was a GOP high point. Four-term Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), once considered vulnerable, cruised past Tony Miller (D) in her Louisville-area district. And manufacturing consultant Geoff Davis (R) picked up the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Ken R. Lucas, defeating Nick Clooney, a former newscaster and the father of actor George Clooney.
Reps. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), Jon Porter (R-Nev.), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) also won closely watched races.
Republicans entered yesterday's elections controlling 229 of the House's 435 seats, counting recent vacancies in two GOP-leaning districts.