WASHINGTON -- In an election that was generally friendly to incumbents, Republicans narrowly retain their grip on the House of Representatives, extending their reign to eight years. All told, more than $1 billion was spent on the most expensive congressional elections ever.
With two races still undecided early Wednesday, Republicans picked up enough Democratic seats to offset their losses and win the 218 seats necessary for control. Democrats had needed a net gain of at least eight seats to regain the majority they lost in 1994.
At 7:30 a.m. in the East, Republicans held 220 seats and were leading in one of the remaining races, with Democrats holding 211 seats and leading in one other -- a trend that would give them a net pickup of two. Two independents, one reliably siding with each party, won their re-election bids.
"We figured it was going to be close," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who currently presides over a House with 222 Republicans, 209 Democrats, two independents and two vacancies.
Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, claimed victory despite the narrow control in the House.
"House Democrats have lost their once-in-a-generation chance to win back control of the House," Davis said.
The undecided seats were held by incumbents: Republican Clay Shaw of Florida and Democrat Rush Holt of New Jersey. Both were too close to call and some recounts were likely.
In early morning results, Republican Mike Rogers defeated Democrat Dianne Byrum to pick up a Michigan seat vacated by Debbie Stabenow, who won a Senate seat. California Democrat Jane Harman defeated Republican incumbent Steve Kuykendall to return to the seat she gave up two years ago in an unsuccessful bid for governor.
Topping the short incumbent casualty list was GOP Rep. James Rogan of California, one of the House managers in President Clinton's impeachment trial, who was defeated by Democrat Adam Schiff in a race that cost some $10 million.
"I think people in our district really wanted to get away from the bitter and strident partisanship," said Schiff, a state senator.
Republican incumbents Brian Bilbray of California and Jay Dickey of Arkansas and Democrats Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut and David Minge of Minnesota also were defeated.
Besides their Connecticut victory, Republicans won Democratic open seats in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Missouri. The victory by Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia's 2nd District was the GOP's first for the House in that state in 18 years.
In an interview, Hastert attributed the GOP's ability to hold the House to an agenda that included balancing the federal budget, paying down public debt and ensuring local control of education. Hastert also helped soften the image of the GOP compared with the anti-government revolutionaries that took the House in 1994 behind Newt Gingrich.
"I've tried to make the House work. I think that's what the people want," said Hastert, who won re-election to an eighth term from Illinois. "A lot of the people who were shrill aren't there any more."
The Democratic leader, Dick Gephardt of Missouri, won his 13th term, but fell agonizingly short to his goal of regaining the majority his party lost in 1994. Still, the Democrats could console themselves with some victories.
In Oklahoma, Democrat Brad Carson claimed an open seat that Republicans had won in their 1994 landslide. The incumbent, Rep. Tom Coburn, retired after adhering to a self-imposed limit of three terms.
Democrats found success in an open Long Island seat vacated by failed New York Senate candidate Rick Lazio, winning a complicated five-way race. Democrats picked up a seat each in Utah and Washington and took four GOP seats in California.
But Republicans took away a seat in Pennsylvania, where a veteran Democrat opted for an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat; and another in New York, claiming the seat held by Rep. Michael Forbes, a Republican-turned-Democrat. In Virginia, the GOP also won a seat vacated by veteran Democrat Owen Pickett.
In polling place interviews during the day, a majority of voters said government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. Voters who felt that way favored Republican candidates for the House. Those who thought government should do more to solve problems sided with Democrats.
The poll, conducted by Voter News Service, found that Republicans fared best among voters who listed taxes as the most important issue. Democrats led among voters who named Medicare, prescription drugs, the economy and jobs, education and Social Security. VNS is a consortium of The Associated Press and the television networks.
With most incumbents coasting to re-election, the political parties lavished tens of millions of dollars on television advertising in a few dozen targeted races. So, too, the special interests -- the unions, pharmaceutical companies and others that dropped millions more on commercials designed to sway the voters.
Apart from the money the candidates themselves raised, the GOP congressional campaign committee reported taking in $130 million during the current election cycle. Democrats countered with $90 million -- nearly three times the amount they raised for the 1998 campaign.
Counting candidates' fund-raising, the money raised and spent on congressional elections was estimated at above $1 billion.
Clinton's impeachment, a key issue in the last election, was scarcely a factor in this one. Of the House impeachment managers who prosecuted Clinton in the Senate, only Rogan was defeated and his role in Clinton's trial was barely an issue.
The new Congress convenes in January. The expiring House is scheduled to return for a post-election session next week, but the newly elected lawmakers won't yet be sworn in.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.