Republicans extend decade of House control
WASHINGTON – Republicans extended their decade-long hold on the House for another two years and were on their way to slightly expanding their majority, knocking off four veteran Texas Democrats along the way.
Among their few setbacks was the defeat of the longest serving GOP member of the chamber, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois. In a familiar pattern, 98 percent of incumbents seeking re-election prevailed or were leading.
Tuesday’s voting left Republicans ready to control the House for a dozen consecutive years, the first time they have achieved that feat since the 12 years that ended in January 1933. With the GOP also renewing its command of the Senate, the party was assured of reigning over Congress, though with narrow majorities that should allow Democrats to slow and even derail some Republican initiatives.
GOP leaders were jubilant. The two chambers’ leaders, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., were already planning their agenda.
“One of the first things that Senator Frist and I want to do … is make sure that we can continue to supply better health care for the American people,” said Hastert in an interview. “Take care of those people who don’t have it. Also work and make sure that we take care of our men and women who are fighting overseas and to make this country even stronger against terrorist attack.”
By early Wednesday morning in the East, Republicans had won 228 seats and were leading in five others, which could give them at least 233 seats. That would be an effective four-seat gain for the GOP. Democrats had 198 seats and led in three.
There are 435 seats in the House, with 218 needed for majority control.
Republicans hold a 227-205 advantage over Democrats in the outgoing House, plus two vacant seats formerly held by Republicans who have retired and one independent who sides with Democrats.
The failure of either party to make dramatic House gains underscored that the national debates over Iraq and the economy provided no decisive help to either side.
Months after Texas’ dominant state Republicans redrew congressional district lines to the GOP’s advantage, the fiercely disputed plan bore fruit and fueled the party’s ability to hold its House majority. Among its chief architects were House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, himself easily re-elected.
Texas Democratic Reps. Charles Stenholm, a leading fiscal conservative and power on the Agriculture Committee, and Martin Frost, a one-time member of his party’s leadership, were both defeated, as were Reps. Max Sandlin and Nick Lampson. The four had a total of 68 years of House experience.
Nick Clooney, former Cincinnati television anchor and father of actor George Clooney, lost his attempt to hold an open northeastern Kentucky seat for Democrats. He was beaten by GOP businessman Geoff Davis.
Democrats fared better in the well-to-do suburbs north of Chicago, where they defeated Crane, whose 35-year House career was the longest among the chamber’s Republicans. The victor was Melissa Bean, who was born seven years before Crane entered the House and characterized him as out of touch with his district.
They also forced freshman GOP Rep. Max Burns, a top target of theirs, to battle for re-election from a Democratic-leaning east Georgia district. Republican Nancy Naples was trailing in her attempt to hold an open seat for her party in a district around Buffalo, N.Y., and Democrats retained seats that Republicans fought hard for in South Dakota, Missouri and Oregon.
In Connecticut, the GOP overcame Democratic efforts to tie some Republican incumbents to President Bush, whose popularity is low there. Maverick GOP Rep. Christopher Shays and former CIA agent Rep. Rob Simmons staved off Democratic rivals.
A pair of Louisiana seats will be decided in Dec. 4 run-offs, with each party expected to hold onto one.
Frost’s bitter race against GOP Rep. Pete Sessions was the country’s most expensive; the pair raised $8.4 million by late October, split almost equally. Stenholm was defeated by freshman Rep. Randy Neugebauer in a district in which two-thirds of the voters were new to Stenholm.
Only one Texas Democrat threatened by redistricting was able to survive: Rep. Chet Edwards, despite the influence of one of his Crawford, Texas, constituents, President Bush.
Nearly all incumbents from coast to coast sailed to re-election, including former presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Also returned for a second House term was Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., who was her state’s secretary of state during the pivotal Florida recount during the 2000 presidential election.
Four candidates with congressional pedigrees triumphed. Democrat Daniel Lipinski won the Chicago seat held by his father, William, for 22 years; Democrat Dan Boren of Oklahoma, son of a former senator, won a House seat; and Democrat Russ Carnahan, whose mother and grandfather were in Congress, won in Missouri. Republican Connie Mack, namesake son of the former senator, grabbed the Fort Myers, Fla., seat vacated by Porter Goss when he was chosen to head the CIA.
In addition, Republican Billy Tauzin III faced a runoff for the Louisiana seat from which his father is stepping down.
Though both parties – and outside political groups – spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this year’s House races, all but a mere three dozen were considered locked up in advance of Tuesday’s balloting.
The lack of major change illustrated the rock-solid advantages held by many candidates – mostly incumbents – in fund raising and in districts drawn to favor one party or the other.
Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both easily breezed to new terms.
As usual, many House races revolved around local issues and personalities. To the degree that the presidential race and the war, terrorism, jobs or other national issues were prominent, they were generally shaded to regional tastes.
For example, in an effort to show Stenholm could work with members of both parties, one of his ads pictured President Bush and Ronald Reagan.
But in a Connecticut district where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry was running strong, Democrats aired a commercial in which the face of incumbent GOP Simmons changed into that of Bush’s. Pick up dash matter