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.
In an interview last night, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said he was pleased that Republicans had fended off serious challenges in Connecticut while felling several Texas Democrats.
"We're going to be in the majority in the 109th [Congress], the question is how big a majority," Reynolds said. "There's been no national wind against us or for us. We've built these races from the ground up."
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.), said there was "no way we could have prevailed" given the outcome in Texas. He agreed there was no national trend, adding, "we just didn't see the massive repudiation [of GOP rule] many of us expected."
Perhaps the Democrats' brightest note was ousting Crane, who was first elected in 1969 and who ran for president in 1980. Crane, who turns 74 today, saw his profile diminish over the years. Democratic businesswoman Melissa Bean narrowly defeated him yesterday after accusing him of taking junkets and being out of touch with voters.
With more than 90 percent of all House seats considered safe for the incumbent party, Democrats had precious few chances to shrink the Republican majority.
"There just weren't enough competitive races for either party to get enough going and pick up a meaningful number of seats," said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Democrats never connected with the public desire for change and the fact that Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress."
Hard-pressed Democratic incumbents who survived yesterday included Reps. Leonard L. Boswell of Iowa, Jim Marshall of Georgia, Dennis Moore of Kansas, David Wu of Oregon and Tim Bishop of New York. Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.) downed GOP challenger Larry Diedrich, who narrowly lost to Herseth in a June special election.
After four decades in the minority, Republicans had taken over the House in 1994, when they netted 52 seats from the Democrats in a drive led by Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Democrats made very modest gains in the next three House elections, but Republicans offset most of them by picking up six seats in 2002.
Democrats won two GOP-held seats in special elections earlier this year. But those gains were wiped out when two Democratic members -- one from Texas, one from Louisiana -- switched to the Republican Party.
Among the notable races yesterday, Wisconsin state Sen. Gwen Moore (D) became the state's first African American elected to Congress by claiming the seat being vacated by Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka (D) in Milwaukee. Her GOP opponent was lawyer Gerald Boyle.
Elsewhere some former lawmakers were poised to return to the House via open seats. They included Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.).
In New Mexico, state Sen. Richard Romero (D) was trying again to oust Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R). She beat him by 10 percentage points in 2002, and was leading with most precincts reporting this morning.
In New York, two moderate Republicans -- Reps. Amo Houghton and Jack Quinn -- are retiring. Democratic Assemblyman Brian Higgins (D) was battling Comptroller Nancy Naples (R) for Quinn's Buffalo-area seat. In Houghton's district, state Sen. John Kuhl Jr. (R) defeated Democrat Samara Barend.
Colorado saw a tight race between Democrat John Salazar (whose brother Kenneth was the party's U.S. Senate nominee) and Republican Greg Walcher for the seat of retiring Rep. Scott McInnis (R).
Washington state had two strongly contested open seats. King County Sheriff Dave Reichert (R) fought radio talk show host Dave Ross (D) for the Seattle-area seat being vacated by Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R). State Rep. Cathy McMorris (R) defeated businessman Don Barbieri (D) in the race for the seat being vacated by Rep. George Nethercutt (R), who was trying to oust Sen. Patty Murray (D).