The monthslong struggle over congressional redistricting (search) made it past a major hurdle as the state House gave preliminary approval to a Republican-drawn map, which awaits a tougher battle in the Senate.

For the third time this summer, the House approved a map sponsored by Republican Rep. Phil King that would likely give Texas Republicans an edge over Democrats in Congress.

The final vote was 76-43 early Wednesday morning, after hours of staunch debate from Democrats on Tuesday.

Democrats argued that the map would dilute the voting power of minorities and rural Texans in favor of urban and suburban Republicans.

"This is political gerrymandering at new heights at an unprecedented level," said Rep. Mike Villareal, a Democrat.

King said his map was fair and did not dilute minority districts.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will likely be rejected in favor of their own map.

The GOP is battling for domination of the 32-member Texas delegation in Congress. Democrats hold a 17-15 advantage, but Republicans, urged on by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, say existing congressional boundaries don't reflect the state's increasingly Republican voting patterns.

King's map would give Texas Republicans as many as 21 seats in Congress.

A federal court drew Texas' congressional districts after state lawmakers failed to do so in 2001, leaving open the possibility that the districts could be redrawn by the Legislature.

The Legislature on Monday began a third special session to consider redistricting after the return of 11 Democratic senators who fled to Albuquerque, N.M., last month to prevent consideration of the issue.

Republicans began trying to push redistricting legislation through in April, but attempts have been thwarted in the regular session and two special sessions called by Gov. Rick Perry (search).