WASHINGTON — Republicans have broken House Democrats’ stranglehold on New England, winning a seat in New Hampshire.
Second-term Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has been defeated by Manchester’s Republican Mayor Frank Guinta. Democrats had previously held all of the House seats in New England.
Across the country, Republicans pulled within reach of a House majority on Tuesday, ousting Democratic freshmen and veterans in battleground districts in the East, South and Midwest.
The GOP defeated 20 Democrats in districts won by Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the 2008 presidential campaign, as voters expressed disillusion with President Barack Obama, anxiety about the economy and tea party-fueled distaste for government. With polls closed on the East Coast, Republican gains were particularly pronounced in the Rust Belt, with the GOP racking up two wins in Indiana , five each in Ohio and Pennsylvania, three in Illinois, and one in Michigan. They had scored key victories from Maryland to Texas and New Hampshire.
Among the victims were Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus, Florida Reps. Suzanne Kosmas, Frank Kratovil of Maryland and Tom Perriello of Virginia, first-termers who backed key elements of Obama’s agenda— the president even campaigned for Perriello — and were savaged for it by their Republican rivals.
But those who stressed their independence from their party, such as Reps. Glenn Nye of Virginia and Travis Childers of Mississippi also went down. Some old bulls also fell: Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota, 13-term Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania and 20-year veteran Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas.
Overall, Republicans had captured 39 seats from Democrats by mid-evening, opened leads against nearly two dozen more Democratic incumbents, and were ahead in bids to claim a handful of seats left open by Democratic retirements. Democrats had taken just two seats from the GOP.
The GOP was nearing the 40-seat turnover it would need for House control and were pushing for a blowout.
Republicans said they had learned painful lessons after being chased from power in 2006 and were ready for a new start.
“Our years in the minority have chastened and disciplined our party, and tonight’s elections show that the American people say it’s time for our party to stop talking and start listening,” said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican.
Democrats struggled to hold their majority. In one rare bright spot, John Carney handily beat Republican Glen Urquhart in the race to succeed GOP Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware’s only House seat, which Castle left to unsuccessfully pursue a Senate seat. And in New Orleans, Democrat Cedric Richmond beat Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, who had campaigned as a friend of Obama.
A handful of Democrats heavily targeted by the GOP pulled through, including Reps. Betty Sutton of Ohio, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heath Shuler of North Carolina and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
“Democratic turnout has been higher than projected,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the Democratic campaign chief. “We knew it would be challenging, but also knew people understood how high the stakes were in this election.
But the few victories were eclipsed by the scope of potential Democratic defeats. First-termers were lagging in key races and some of the party’s old bulls were struggling to survive, like Rep. Ike Skelton in Missouri.
Democrats now control the House by a 255-178 margin, with two vacancies. All 435 seats are up for grabs.
Voters went to the polls intensely worried about the economy and dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working. An Associated Press analysis of exit poll results found voters saying the economy eclipses any other issue as their top concern. They’re also expressing dissatisfaction with Obama and Congress, and they don’t have a favorable view of either political party.
It was a remarkable turnabout from 2008, when Obama helped propel Democrats to big gains in their House majority only two years after the 2006 wave that swept them to control. This year, few Democratic incumbents felt safe, least of all the 51 who claimed Republican seats over the last four years.
House candidates and party committees raised and spent tons of campaign cash, and Democrats had a slight edge. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $145 million to bankroll its candidates, compared with $121 million shelled out by the National Republican Congressional Committee. That’s nearly double what the Democratic campaign arm spent in the last election, and more th an five times what the Republican counterpart did when the tables were turned.
GOP candidates poured a total of $419 million into their campaigns, while Democrats spent $421.5 million.
But Republican-allied outside groups skewed the playing field dramatically. They spent $189.5 million savaging Democratic candidates while independent groups skewering Republicans spent $89 million.