Midterm Election May Be Political Oddity for House

The House Republican majority is an historical oddity.

It's not that Republicans are odd, but they've maintained power in the House despite losing seats to Democrats in each of the past three elections. That's never happened before.

The problem for the Democrats is that they've never won enough seats to topple the Republicans. It's uncertain they will this time, the fourth election since Republicans took control of the House in 1994.

Democrats sound gung-ho the week before Election Day, and it's not just bravado. The stakes are enormous for the GOP.

Republican control of the House guaranteed President Bush a favorable vote on the Iraq war resolution. Since all bills dealing with spending and taxation originate in the House, GOP control is also vital to the White House's economic and budget agenda.

There are 223 Republicans, 208 Democrats and a single independent in the House right now. There are also three vacancies, seats that were formerly held by Democrats. The magic number for control of the House is 218 seats.

"In the United States Senate, as I've consistently said, we will net seats," Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe said. "Today we would net two to three new seats in the House. As we say, we only need six seats. Those seats are within our grasp."

In politics, "within our grasp" is light-years from "in the bag," and, privately, senior Democrats doubt they will retake control of the House — even though economic anxiety and historical trends should theoretically work in their favor.

"Typically ... in the first midterm election, a historical trend runs very strongly against the White House," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The White House would like to defy history this year."

Since 1865, a new president's party has gained seats in the House only twice, and lost seats 22 times, in the first midterm election. The new president's party has never gained House seats in the first midterm election after a close presidential election. By anyone's measure, the 2000 election fit that bill.

By some indications, that trend may be broken this cycle.

If the election were held today, House Republican leaders say they would increase their majority by two to five seats. But they sense growing Democratic momentum, and that's why the president and vice president were scheduled to make 14 stops in 10 states for House Republican candidates for the last six days of the campaign.

Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.