Nov 4, 2014 5:25 PM
House: GOP steers toward hefty majority in House
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) Confident Republicans steered toward a hefty House majority in Tuesday's elections, capitalizing on dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the nation's pervasive malaise to push their numbers toward the highest levels in 65 years.
The GOP currently controls 234 seats and is a lock to re-establish its majority for the final two years of Obama's presidency. Aggressive in the midterms, Republicans were certain to win the seats of retiring moderate Democrats in Utah, North Carolina and New York while trying to make inroads in Democratic strongholds of Illinois, Minnesota and California.
Some two dozen Democratic incumbents were in jeopardy but just four Republicans faced competitive races as the 2010 GOP romp gave the party the upper hand in redrawing congressional districts.
Obama's low approval ratings around 40 percent were a drag on Democrats, as was the electorate's unease with the Islamic State threat, Ebola outbreak and job losses. Promising economic signs of a drop in the unemployment rate and cheaper gasoline failed to help the president's party, which typically loses seats in midterm elections.
The GOP was widely expected to exceed its tea party-boosted total of 242 seats in 2010 and was likely to match the 246 of 1947-1949 when another Democrat, Harry S. Truman, occupied the White House. Democrats still hold the modern-day edge for most seats 292 in 1979.
"If we do, we're up in territory we've not seen," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "You're in pretty thin oxygen when you're up there as a Republican."
Republicans purposely lowered expectations at a gain of five to eight seats, but privately some said anything less than a net of a dozen seats would be a disappointment.
A solid GOP majority means Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can afford defections from his increasingly conservative caucus and still get legislation passed while Republicans would hold more committee seats to guide the party agenda. Republicans are counting on partnering with a GOP-led Senate.
For Obama, a dozen House losses would be an ignominious distinction. The president, whose party lost 63 seats in 2010, would become the two-term president with the most midterm defeats, surpassing Truman's 74.
National Democrats worked furiously to keep the losses at a minimum, outraising Republicans $172 million to $131 million. But they were outspent by GOP-leaning outside groups that targeted Democrats, pumping $7 million in an Illinois race and another $7 million against first-term Rep. Ami Bera in California.
Here's a look at some of the most competitive contests in the country:
The rival had a familiar face as Republicans in New York, New Hampshire, Arizona and Illinois challenged Democrats in a half dozen rematches. First-term Reps. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., faced former GOP lawmakers Bob Dold and Nan Hayworth, who had her gay son in a last-minute ad question the labeling of his mom as a tea party extremist. Maloney is one of the openly gay members of Congress.
The election is certain to provide surprises with Republicans and Democrats pointing to the high number of undecided voters in the closing days. However, it's hard to imagine any result topping the June primary loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to little-known and underfunded professor Dave Brat. Giant-slayer Brat is expected to win in the Richmond-area district.
Cantor was the lone Jewish Republican in the House. At the tip of New York's Long Island, state lawmaker Lee Zeldin hopes to be the House's new Jewish Republican, but he's locked in a close race with six-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop.
Republicans have struggled to win over female voters in presidential elections. Two likely House winners are certain to help with the GOP's image. In Utah, Mia Love would be the first black female Republican while in New York, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik, a former aide in President George W. Bush's administration, would be the youngest House member.
Two-term Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., faces a 20-count indictment on tax fraud and other charges, and got no help from national Republicans. He still may win re-election as his faithful Staten Island voters prefer him over Brooklyn Democrat Domenic Recchia in a district straddling the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In Louisiana, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, who was caught on tape kissing a married aide, could survive for a Dec. 6 runoff after the state's open primary that includes Republican Zach Dasher, nephew of "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson.
The election will determine whether white Southern Democrats survive. Five-term Rep. John Barrow of Georgia and 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia were the most vulnerable. Democrats were counting on Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, to knock out two-term Rep. Steve Southerland in Florida and breathe new life into the party.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.