WASHINGTON — Republicans recaptured control of the House early Wednesday, besting Democrats in a billion-dollar battle and ensuring that the chamber will be dominated by their conservative agenda. Reacting to President Barack Obama's re-election, House Speaker John Boehner said the voters want both parties to find common ground on repairing the economy.
Past midnight in the East, Democrats had knocked off 12 GOP House members — including 10 members of the huge tea party-backed House GOP freshman class of 2010. Republican losers included four incumbents from Illinois, two each from New Hampshire and New York, and one apiece from Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Texas.
Republicans nearly matched, picking up nine previously Democratic seats. Their candidates defeated one Democratic incumbent apiece in Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and picked up an open seat each in Arkansas, California, Indiana, North Carolina, and Oklahoma currently held by Democrats who retired or ran for another office.
With almost 90 percent of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 224 seats and were leading in 15 more. For a majority in the chamber, a party must control 218 seats. Democrats had won 170 seats and were leading in 25 others.
It appeared likely that the two parties' margins in the new Congress would closely resemble the current tally. Republicans control the chamber by 240 to 190, plus five vacancies: two seats once controlled by the GOP and three by Democrats. Early Wednesday, it remained in doubt whether either party would ultimately have a net gain.
Among those re-elected to his seat: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the vice presidential candidate on the defeated GOP ticket with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.
Shortly after Obama's re-election was clear, Boehner — re-elected without opposition — spoke of voters' message of compromise. That was a stark departure from the House GOP's general tone over the past two years, which have been marked by numerous bitter clashes with Obama over deficit reduction, taxes and spending.
"If there is a mandate, it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt," Boehner said in a written statement.
Earlier in the evening, Boehner had seemed more combative.
"The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority," he said at a gathering of Republicans in Washington. "The American people also made clear there's no mandate for raising tax rates."
One of the top fights when Congress returns for a postelection session this month will be over the looming expiration of income tax cuts first enacted a decade ago under President George W. Bush. Republicans want to renew them all, while President Barack Obama wants the cuts to expire for the highest-earning Americans.
In remarks to Democrats just blocks from where Boehner spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would be "fighting for reigniting the American dream, building ladders of opportunity for people who want to work hard and play by the rules and take responsibility."
Pelosi, who was easily re-elected, has not said definitively whether she will continue to serve as Democratic leader.
Though 10 GOP freshmen were defeated on Election Day, 69 of them were re-elected by early Wednesday in the East. Two others were leading in their races but one was trailing. An exit poll of voters conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Research showed that just 21 percent said they backed the tea party, which had fueled the big GOP House gains in 2010.
The GOP victory in the House contrasted with party's performance elsewhere on the national stage. Besides Obama's win, Democrats held control of the Senate and still could add slightly to their numbers there.
Democrats in Illinois controlled the redrawing of congressional districts after the latest Census, and the new lines proved too tough for several incumbent House Republicans. Conservative tea party freshmen Reps. Joe Walsh and Bobby Schilling lost, as did moderate freshman Robert Dold and seven-term veteran Judy Biggert, a social moderate.
Other losing GOP freshmen were Rep. David Rivera of Florida, who was hurt by investigations into his past campaign financing; Ann Marie Buerkle and Nan Hayworth of New York; Francisco Canseco of Texas, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota and both New Hampshire representatives, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass.
In Maryland Democrats defeated 10-term GOP veteran Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland in a race that was preordained after Democrats controlling the state legislature added more Democratic suburbs near Washington to his western Maryland district.
Embroiled in an unexpectedly tight re-election race was conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
One winner was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., the Chicago lawmaker who took medical leave from Congress in June and has been at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment of bipolar disorder. His only campaigning has been by automated phone calls to voters.
Anti-abortion Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., was re-elected, overcoming reports that he had pressured a mistress to seek an abortion.
In Kentucky, GOP attorney Andy Barr defeated Democrat Ben Chandler after losing to him by just 647 votes in 2010. Chandler, among a dwindling number of moderate Blue Dog Democrats, has represented the district in Kentucky horse country surrounding Lexington, since 2004 but faced voters who heavily favored Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who easily carried the state over Obama.
Republicans also ousted Rep. Larry Kissell of North Carolina, a two-term veteran who was among several Democrats in the state who faced far tougher districts due to GOP-controlled redistricting.
In Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh, Republicans defeated Democrat Mark Critz in what was one of the year's most expensive races, with both sides spending a combined $13.7 million.
Also defeated was Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul of New York, who won a 2011 special election to her seat by attacking Republicans for trying to revamp Medicare.
There were 62 districts where no incumbents were running at all, either because they had retired or lost earlier party primaries or because the seats were newly created to reflect the census.
When combined with losses by incumbents, the number of new House members in the next Congress was still below the 91 freshmen who started serving in 2011 — a number unmatched since 1993.
Just weeks ago, Democrats had said they could win the 25 added seats they need to wrest control of the House.
As Obama's lead over Romney shrank as Election Day approached, Democrats' expectations for coattails that would boost their House candidates shrunk as well.
Republicans, building off their enhanced control of statehouses, also did a robust job of protecting their incumbents and weakening Democrats when congressional district lines were redrawn after the 2010 census, especially in states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In addition, out of a record $1.1 billion that House candidates and their allies spent in this year's races, more than 60 percent of it went to Republicans.
The economy and jobs dominated the presidential campaign, but there was little evidence either party had harnessed those issues in a decisive way at the House level. Both sides agreed that this year's election lacked a nationwide wave that would give either side sweeping strength — as occurred when Democrats seized control in 2006 and expanded their majority in 2008, and Republicans snatched the chamber back in 2010.
Polls underscored the public sentiment that Democrats had hoped they could use to their advantage.
A CBS News-New York Times poll late last month showed just 15 percent of Americans approved of how Congress was handling its job, near its historic lows. And an Associated Press-GfK poll in August showed that 39 percent approved of congressional Democrats while just 31 percent were satisfied with congressional Republicans.