President Reagan's resounding reelection victory produced Republican gains in the House, but it appeared unlikely that the election would restore the working majority of Republicans and conservative Democrats he lost in 1982.
Several prominent Democrats went down to defeat last night, including three subcommittee chairmen, Reps. Clarence D. Long (D-Md.), an 11-term incumbent; Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.), who had been in the House for 10 years, and Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.), who played a key role in investigating the theft of President Jimmy Carter's 1980 debate briefing papers.
House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) survived a scare after trailing much of the evening in one of the most expensive races in the country.
Republicans were hoping to regain the 26 seats they lost in the depths of the economic recession in 1982; it appeared from incomplete results that they would fall short of that goal. At 1:30 a.m. Republicans had captured 13 Democratic seats and Democrats had knocked out two Republicans, for a net Republican gain of 11 seats with many races still undecided.
However, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), head of the Republican House campaign committee, said last night, "If we gain 20 of the 26 seats that's enough to put together a working majority. We'll be in as good a shape now as in 1980 to put together our program."
NBC last night projected that Republicans would pick up 17 seats; CBS said 16. Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said "It looks like its going to be somewhere around 15-18 seats. It's substantially short of the 25 the Republicans predicted . . . . It's a big win for us. We ran against a popular president . . . and we maintained our own."
Democratic casualties appeared to be heaviest in Texas, where two incumbents were defeated, two more were in unexpectedly tough races and Republicans captured an open seat formerly held by a Democrat.
Democratic losers included 11-term incumbent Rep. Joseph G. Minish (D-N.J.) whose north New Jersey district was reapportioned to include more Republicans; five-term Rep. Jack Hightower (D-Tex), and Rep. William R. Ratchford (D-Conn.), who had survived a close call in the Reagan sweep of 1980.
A Democratic open seat in Manchester, N.H., shifted to the Republican column with a victory by conservative real estate businessman Robert C. Smith over liberal Democratic activist Dudley Dudley.
However, House results in eastern states where polls close early were not all bad for the Democrats. In Indiana, five-term incumbent Rep. Philip R. Sharp won reelection in a hard fought contest. In Connecticut, freshman Rep. Bruce A. Morrison (D-Conn.) won a tough rematch against former representative Lawrence DiNardis.
In one of the closest races of the night, five-term incumbent Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Pa.), a "Watergate baby" first elected in 1974, was 481 votes ahead with 100 percent of the precincts reporting in his suburban Philadelphia district in a race that may be decided by absentee ballots. Another potentially endangered Pennsylvanian, Rep. Peter H. Kostmayer (D-Pa.) won reelection by a margin almost as thin.
Several vulnerable Democratic freshmen who had been targeted by the GOP also won reelection. Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Edward F. Feighan, both of Ohio, won. Other freshman winners last night were Allan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who defeated Elise Du Pont, wife of the popular Republican governor of the state.
And in the Republican open seat in Mobile, Democratic Frank McRight was neck-and-neck with Democrat-turned-Republican H.L. (Sonny) Callahan.
Long of Maryland was defeated by Republican Helen Delich Bentley, who had run against him twice before and was aided this time by last-minute help from the White House. In suburban Atlanta Levitas was unseated by Patrick Lynn Swindall, a Republican attorney who attacked Levitas for being too liberal. Albosta, in north central Michigan, was upset by Republican Bill Schuette, who ran a heavily financed 18-month campaign for the seat.
Exit polls by CBS and ABC showed that more than half the voters surveyed said they voted for a Republican congressional candidate, a reversal of the findings in similar polls taken in 1982. While such surveys may indicate the potential length of Reagan's coattails, they are not necessarily an accurate reflection of the outcome of the individual races for the 435 House seats.
The CBS exit survey showed that by a 50-to-43 margin blue-collar workers said they voted for the Republican congressional candidate; in 1982 the same group said it voted Democratic 61 to 35. Among senior citizens this year, 53 percent said they voted for Republicans; in 1982 56 percent said they voted for Democrats.
The House has been controlled by Democrats for the last 30 years. But Republican gains of 33 seats in 1980, while leaving Democrats in numerical control, enabled Reagan to take advantage of a bipartisan conservative coalition to cut taxes, curb spending on social programs and raise the defense budget.
However, since 1982, when the GOP lost 26 seats in the midst of a recession, the House has been a burial ground for many of Reagan's domestic and foreign policy initiatives.
Republicans were hoping the president's popularity might trigger a historic realignment in the House of the sort Franklin Delano Roosevelt set in motion with his first election in 1932. House Republican candidates this year tried to convince voters to support Reagan and the entire Republican "team."
However, popular incumbent presidents winning reelection in the past have not had much success extending their coattails to the House. The Democrats picked up 21 seats when Roosevelt was reelected for a fourth time in the midst of World War II, the largest net gain this century accompanying the reelection of a president.
More recently there have been two "lonely landslides." In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower was reelected with what was then the second largest vote plurality in history, but the Republican margin in the House dropped by two. In 1972 President Richard M. Nixon's record 18-million vote plurality yielded only a gain of 12 seats for his party.
As usual, the overwhelming number of incumbents in both parties were expected to win reelection. In the past 30 years over 90 percent of the House incumbents seeking reelection have won.
Incumbents tainted by scandal had mixed success at the polls this year. According to ABC, Rep. Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.), who was censured by the House for having an affair with a female page, lost to Democratic State Senator Terry L. Bruce and Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.), who was censured for an affair with a male page, was declared a winner. Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho), convicted in federal court of filing false financial disclosure statements, was leading in a rematch with Democrat Richard Stallings, a college professor.
In one race that had attracted national attention as a test of the power of the black vote, Democrat state Rep. Robert G. Clark was trailing in his effort to unseat Rep. W. Webb Franklin (R-Miss.) and become the first black to represent Mississippi in the House since Reconstruction.
Clark, trailing narrowly with more than 90 percent of the vote in, was one of 14 non-incumbent blacks running for a House seat. There are now 20 blacks in the House.
Democratic hopes for picking up seats were limited mostly to open seats formerly held by Republicans and a handful of seats in states that are still economically depressed. At stake were 27 open seats, 14 formerly held by Republicans and 13 by Democrats.
Two of the Democratic pickups last night were pulled off by flamboyant sheriffs. In Arkansas, Democrat Tommy Robinson, the conservative Pulaski County sheriff, won an open seat formerly held by a Republican. In Youngstown, Ohio, maverick Republican Lyle Williams (R-Ohio) was defeated by Mahoning County Sheriff James A. Trafficant Jr., who successfully defended himself in court against charges he accepted bribes when he campaigned for sheriff.
In suburban Westchester County in New York, Republican Joseph D. DioGuardi was leading Democrat Oren J. Teicher for the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Richard L. Ottinger. In the Democratic open seat in Colorado, Republican Michael L. Strang was edging out environmentalist liberal activist W Mitchell.
The other key battleground was among freshmen, where Republicans were hoping to roll up margins by knocking off as many as a dozen of the 61 Democratic first-termers.
In Arizona, Democratic Rep. James F. McNulty Jr., considered one of the most vulnerable freshmen, was locked in a race that was too close to call with nearly all the votes in.
In North Carolina, Rep. Robin Britt (D-N.C.) lost to Republican Howard Coble. In Illinois, Democrat Rep. Lane A. Evans was declared the winner by ABC, but in Indiana, first-term Democrat Frank McCloskey was defeated by Republican state Rep. Richard D. McIntyre, according to ABC. In Texas, first-term Democrat Tommy J. Vandergriff of Arlington, a booming city between Dallas and Fort Worth, lost to Republican economics professor Richard Armey.
Potential upsets last night included Rep. Robert A. Young (D-Mo.), who was locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Jack Buechner. Rep. Ike Andrews (D-N.C.) a six-term incumbent from Raleigh, was trailing William Cobey, a businessman and political ally of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
In the most expensive House race in the nation, Republican Rep. Bill Green representing New York's posh East Side, won reelection.