Republicans Tuesday defended just enough of their vulnerable members and open seats to beat back yet another Democratic assault on their thin majority in the House.
It appears Republicans will control the House for a fourth consecutive Congress for the first time since the 1920s. Republicans counted at least 218 seats - a dip from the 223 they now control but still a majority of the House - in their column early today.
But a handful of seats remained in play at presstime, making it impossible to determine the margin by which Republicans will control the House when the 107th Congress convenes in January.
House Minority Leader Gephardt had recruited a stellar cast of challengers this year and persuaded a number of senior members to put off retirement for a shot at regaining chairmanships lost after the GOP sweep in the 1994 elections. Gephardt late Tuesday refused to concede defeat, telling supporters, "I can tell you this: We're going to pick up seats in the House and we will hope that in the next few hours, and maybe days, we will get to the magic number that we need."
But Republicans managed to defend at least 20 of their 26 open seats, while Democrats lost at least four of their nine open seats. Democrat Rick Larsen captured the GOP open seat in Washington state, but Republican Shelley Moore Capito narrowly claimed a Democratic open seat in West Virginia. In California, former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman apparently ousted Rep. Steve Kuykendall. The Michigan open seat race between Democrat Dianne Byrum and Republican Mike Rogers was too close to call at presstime.
Meanwhile, GOP Reps. James Rogan and Brian Bilbray of California and Jay Dickey of Arkansas went down to defeat, and the GOP lost the seat that Rep. Rick Lazio gave up to make his unsuccessful run for the Senate.
Republicans knocked off Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut. At presstime, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey was battling former GOP Rep. Dick Zimmer, while Rep. David Minge of Minnesota was upset in a very tight race. "I think we're in pretty good shape," House Speaker Hastert said Tuesday evening on CNN. He added, "It may be a very tight majority, but it's going to be a majority."
Hastert also said House Republicans would "reach across the aisle to do things on a bipartisan basis ... I would certainly offer my hand across the aisle to get some things done."
Republicans were cheered early in the evening when GOP Reps. Ernest Fletcher, Anne Northup and Edward Whitfield turned aside tough challenges in Kentucky, one of the first states to report results.
Attorney Brad Carson lifted the spirits of Democrats when he snared the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. However, GOP state Sen. Melissa Hart quickly returned the favor, taking the western Pennsylvania seat left open by Democratic Rep. Ron Klink, who lost his bid for a Senate seat. As the evening wore on, Republicans held onto three open seats in Florida, while Democrats captured two of three open GOP seats in California, including the seat of Rep. Matthew Martinez, who switched parties after losing in the Democratic primary this year.
Democrat Jim Matheson also won the GOP open seat in Utah. Republicans won the seat left open by retiring Democratic Rep. Pat Danner of Missouri and, as expected, picked up the seat of New York party-switching Rep. Michael Forbes, who was defeated in a Democratic primary, and the rural Virginia district left open by retiring Rep. Owen Pickett.