U.S. House Republicans Emboldened by Keeping Majority

House Speaker John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner said before results of the presidential vote showed Obama had won a second term, “The American people want solutions - and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our majority.” Photographer: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Republicans kept their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, emboldening them to stick to their smaller-government agenda even as Democrats retained the presidency and control of the Senate.

Aided by redistricting and retirements of vulnerable incumbents, Republicans picked up Democratic seats in states such as North Carolina, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arkansas. These gains offset Democratic victories over Republican incumbents, including three socially moderate Republicans as well as freshmen elected in 2010 with the support of the Tea Party movement.

The election results ensure continued resistance by House Republicans to President Barack Obama’s determination to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in the effort to reduce the U.S. budget deficit.

“The American people want solutions -- and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our majority,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said before results of the presidential vote showed that Obama had won a second term. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

With 97 percent of the 435 House races called by the Associated Press, Republicans had won 234 seats and were leading in three more. Control of the chamber requires 218 votes. Democrats were victorious in 189 contests and were leading in nine more.

‘Best Shot’

In western New York, Republican businessman Chris Collins defeated Democratic Representative Kathy Hochul, who won a special election last year by attacking the House Republican plan to partially privatize Medicare.

Democratic House candidates redoubled their attacks on the Medicare plan after its architect, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was picked by Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ losing presidential candidate, to be his running mate.

When the new Congress takes office in January, Republicans will be fortified on the Medicare issue because “Democrats took their best shot on that issue and they missed,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, California.

“If I am a conservative Republican, I take this as an indication that entitlement reform is not necessarily a killer issue” for Democrats to use against Republicans, Pitney said.

The election won’t make compromise on tax and spending issues any easier.

Fiscal Cliff

Lawmakers may have to address the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts that would start in January if Congress doesn’t act in a lame-duck session that begins later this month.

Only a “looming catastrophe” would motivate House Republicans to support higher taxes, Pitney said. “It’s not an alternative they are going to leap at.”

Republicans, capitalizing on their control of 26 state legislatures to redraw districts in those states, picked up three seats in North Carolina.

Democrat Larry Kissell was defeated by Republican businessman Richard Hudson. Republicans also won seats vacated by Democrats Heath Shuler and Brad Miller. Both decided to retire after their districts were redrawn to include more Republican voters.

Republicans “were able to use that as a firewall to Democratic gains,” said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Pick Up

Republicans picked up a Democratic seat in Indiana due to another House retirement. Republican Jackie Walorski defeated Democrat Brendan Mullen for the seat now held by Democrat Joe Donnelly, who was elected to the Senate.

Three incumbent moderate Republicans lost: Judy Biggert and Bob Dold in Illinois and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire.

“Clearly the Republicans will be more conservative” in the new Congress, Rohde said.

Democratic gains in some places were offset by losses to Republicans elsewhere. In Kentucky, Democratic Representative Ben Chandler was defeated by Republican Andy Barr in a rematch of their 2010 contest.

Barr ran ads accusing Chandler of helping Obama wage a “war on coal” by voting for climate-change legislation when Democrats controlled the House.

Republicans picked up a Pennsylvania seat. Keith Rothfus, a former Department of Homeland Security official under President George W. Bush, defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Critz. The district was redrawn by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature.

Ohio, Iowa

In Ohio and Iowa, incumbent House Republicans defeated Democratic House members who were pitted against them as a result of redistricting. Ohio Republican Jim Renacci beat Democrat Betty Sutton, and Iowa Republican Tom Latham prevailed over Democrat Leonard Boswell.

The retirement of Democrats Dan Boren in Oklahoma and Mike Ross of Arkansas gave Republicans an opportunity for two more gains.

Republican plumbing contractor Markwayne Mullin beat Democrat Rob Wallace for Boren’s seat. In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton defeated Democrat Gene Jeffress.

Republicans, who currently hold a 240-190 majority with five vacancies, won control of the House in 2010 by gaining 63 seats.

They also won races for redrawn districts in Georgia and Texas. In north Georgia, former state legislator Doug Collins, the Republican, defeated lawyer Jody Cooley, a Democrat, in the race for the new seat. Former U.S. Representative Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican, defeated Democrat Max Martin in a new House district near Houston.

Blue Dogs

Elsewhere in Georgia, Democratic Representative John Barrow defeated Republican state lawmaker Lee Anderson. A member of the Blue Dog Democrats, a dwindling band of self-described fiscal conservatives, Barrow was challenged by congressional redistricting that removed Democratic Savannah from his district.

Another Blue Dog Democrat, Representative Mike McIntyre, was awaiting the examination of provisional ballots by North Carolina election officials, said his campaign manager, Lachlan McIntosh. McIntosh led Republican David Rouzer by 378 votes of more than 333,000 cast, with all precincts reporting.

Still another Blue Dog, Utah Democratic Representative Jim Matheson, prevailed over his Republican opponent, Mia Love. The incumbent led Love by less than 3,000 votes with all precincts reporting, a margin too narrow for the Associated Press to call the race.

Yet Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, conceded earlier today. She was seeking to be the first black Republican woman in the House.

Jackson Win

In Illinois, Democratic Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., who disclosed in July that he was being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, won re-election.

Another Chicago-area lawmaker, Republican freshman Joe Walsh, elected with Tea Party movement support, was defeated by Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq war.

In New York, freshman Republican Nan Hayworth, also elected with Tea Party support, lost to Democrat Sean Maloney. Freshman New Hampshire Republican Frank Guinta was defeated by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who was seeking to reclaim the House seat she lost to Guinta in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party support.

Florida freshman Republican Allen West was in a tight re-election battle with Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus and a candidate in the Republican presidential primaries, won a tight re-election battle, the AP reported.

‘American Dream’

Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, defeated Democrat Christie Vilsack, wife of the state’s former governor and current U.S. agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack. King said his victory made clear that “it’s time for conservative solutions to restore our American dream.”

Democrats won two new House seats in Florida.

Former Democratic Representative Alan Grayson, who lost in 2010 after one House term, won in a new Orlando-area district over Republican Todd Long. Lois Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach, defeated Republican Adam Hasner in another redrawn Florida district.

Florida Republican David Rivera, who represents Miami, lost his re-election race to Democrat Joe Garcia in a rematch of 2010.

While Ryan lost as Romney’s vice presidential candidate, he won re-election to his Wisconsin House seat. His congressional campaign blanketed 60 percent of Wisconsin’s media market with television ads promoting his re-election to Congress.

California Results

In California, at least seven incumbents lost or were in close races that remained undetermined. California was holding its first election after redistricting under a system that allows the top two vote-getters in a primary to advance to the general election even if they are in the same party.

Howard Berman, who first won in 1982, lost to fellow Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman. Pete Stark, who was first elected in 1972, lost to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell. Democrat Janice Hahn beat another Democratic incumbent, Laura Richardson, who was reprimanded by the House this year for ethics violation, by 60 percent to 40 percent.

Other California incumbents were in close races. Republican Dan Lungren was trailing Democrat Ami Bera by 184 votes. Joe Baca, who has been in Congress since 1999, lost to fellow Democrat Gloria McLeod, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Low Ratings

Republican Mary Bono Mack was trailing Democrat Raul Ruiz with 57 percent of the vote counted. In San Diego, Republican Brian Bilbray was trailing Democrat Scott Peters by 685 votes.

Gridlock in Congress has led to low approval marks from the public. The Gallup Poll’s public approval rating of Congress was 21 percent in October, one of the lowest in the last month before an election. The rating fell as low as 10 percent in August.

“The paradox of the election is the voters say they don’t like things the way they are” while voting to keep them that way, Pitney said.

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