NEW YORK – Democratic hopes of winning back the House of Representatives were dashed early Wednesday as Republicans won in districts across the country and increased their majority.
By Wednesday, the GOP had captured 227 seats. Democrats had picked up 205. Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders remains the sole independent in the House. Two seats were undecided.
The majority party must hold at least 218 seats. The GOP marked a net gain of four seats.
Though all 435 House seats were being decided on this Election Day, only about one-tenth were closely contested. While several races still had yet to be called on Wednesday morning, Republicans were winning most of those toss-ups.
It was only the third time in a century that the president's party gained House seats in a midterm election -- after Presidents Roosevelt in 1934 and Clinton in 1998.
President Bush's popularity and energetic campaigning helped his party win victories, as did the small margin of truly competitive House races.
"We had a precise message we were able to take to our districts around the country," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Democrats had needed a net gain of six seats to reclaim the control they lost in 1994, but they failed in several high-profile challenges to Republicans and lost some of their own incumbents as well.
The first race of the evening to be called was the fight in Kentucky's 3rd District, where three-term GOP Rep. Anne Northup won against Democrat Jack Conway, legal counsel to Gov. Paul Patton.
The race was peppered with controversy on both sides. Northup was accused of trying to win over black voters in inner-city Louisville by using non-profit charity services, though she denied the charges. Patton was dogged by charges that he used his office to hand out favors to his former mistress.
GOP businessman Chris Chocola won the open 2nd District seat in Indiana in a competitive race against Democratic Rep. Jill Long Thompson. The seat was previously held by retiring Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer.
In one of the few major victories for Democrats, former Clinton official Chris Van Hollen won the 8th District seat in Maryland against nine-term GOP Rep. Connie Morella. The race was one of the closest congressional contests in the nation. Van Hollen got a boost from redistricting that made the suburban district more Democratic, but Morella fought a tough fight by portraying herself as a liberal Republican.
Southern Indiana's 8th District, which earned the nickname "Bloody Eighth" because some of the state's most contentious elections have taken place there in the past, appeared to be unusually quiet this year. Democrat Bryan Hartke, a little-known engineer from Newburgh, lost to incumbent John Hostettler, a Republican, 51-46.
In an unsurprising outcome in Florida, GOP former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, known for certifying the contested 2000 presidential election, easily won the 13th District seat against Democratic lawyer Jan Schneider. Harris takes the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Dan Miller.
And in Florida's 5th District toss-up race, incumbent Democratic Rep. Karen Thurman had 46 percent of the vote to GOP state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite's 48 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Brown-Waite gained an edge because of redistricting, but early reports had Thurman up by a thin margin.
In Connecticut's remapped 5th District, GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson won with 54 percent of the vote over Democratic Rep. Jim Maloney's 43 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. The 10-term Johnson's $3 million-plus represented the most money ever spent on re-electing a Connecticut representative. Three-term Maloney, who accused his opponent, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee chairwoman, of catering to pharmaceutical companies, spent $1.4 million.
In southern Illinois' redrawn 19th District, Republican Rep. John Shimkus took a wide lead over two-term Democrat Rep. David Phelps, a former gospel singer. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Shimkus had 55 percent of the vote to Phelps' 45 percent. Because Shimkus won the race, Republicans have a slim majority in the state's congressional delegation.
The tight congressional race in Mississippi's 3rd District was called in favor of Republican Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. over Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows. Some analysts had suggested Pickering benefited from voters angered by Senate Democrats' refusal to confirm his father to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Pennsylvania's 17th District, 10-term Republican Rep. George Gekas, who has lately been referring to himself as "George W.," lost by a sliver, 51 to 49 percent, to five-term Rep. Tim Holden for the industrial area surrounding the state's capital of Harrisburg.
In New Hampshire's 1st District, Republican state Rep. Jeb Bradley won against Democratic state Rep. Martha Fuller Clark, 58 to 38 percent. The seat was formerly held by GOP Rep. John Sununu, who was running for Senate against Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
The GOP mounted another upset for Minnesota’s 2nd District. GOP retired Marine Corps officer John Kline defeated four-term Democrat Rep. Bill Luther. This was the third match-up between the two. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kline had 53 percent of the vote to Luther's 42 percent.
In South Dakota's 1st District, with all precincts reporting, Republican Gov. Bill Janklow held the lead over Democratic lawyer Stephanie Herseth, 53 to 46 percent. The race was marked by the polar differences between the two candidates. Janklow, a term-limited veteran politician, frequently called his 31-year-old opponent "Stephanie."
In what was once known as "Condit Country" – California’s newly remapped 18th District — Democrat Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza from the start maintained a healthy lead over Republican state Sen. Dick Monteith to take the place of Rep. Gary Condit in Congress. Cardoza beat Monteith, a state senator from Modesto, 52 percent to 43 percent with all precincts reporting in the 18th Congressional district in the San Joaquin Valley. The race cost more than $2 million, with the American Medical Association backing Cardoza and the National Rifle Association
And in North Carolina's 8th District, GOP incumbent Rep. Robin Hayes won with 54 percent of the vote against Democrat attorney Chris Kouri, who had 45 percent.
In Iowa's 2nd District, 13-term Republican Rep. Jim Leach defeated Democrat Julie Thomas in another remapped area. With al lprecincts reporting, Leach held 52 percent of the votes to Thomas' 46 percent. Libertarian candidate Kevin Litten took 2 percent.
Pediatrician Thomas had tried to benefit from the more Democratic district, and even drew former Vice President Al Gore to the district to stump for her. Leach, who served as Banking Committee chairman and is currently an International Relations Subcommittee chairman, fell back on experience despite the financial disadvantage because he refused to take any money from political action committees.
A sad twist to the Hawaii 2nd District race gave Democrats the opportunity to field a candidate to replace the late Rep. Patsy Mink, whose name was left on the ballot even though she died several weeks before the election from complications related to pneumonia. Mink won the seat 62 to 38 percent over her opponent Republican Bob McDermott.
A special election will take place Nov. 30 to pick a successor for the remainder of Mink's current term. Her widower John Mink said he would like to run to fill out the term. A second election will occur January 4, 2003 to choose a new representative for the full two-year term. Mink was not expected to run in that race.
Democrats had admitted the prospect for taking back the House was a long shot at best. But they tried to stay optimistic well into the night.
"I think we're still in the hunt," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt told Fox News earlier in the game. "We've seen some good results tonight. This thing is not over. I think there maybe be some surprises."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.