In Pennsylvania’s 8th District, located in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, Iraq war veteran Patrick Murphy beat Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick by fewer than 500 votes.
Another Democrat picked up the seat in California’s 11th District. In a rematch of the 2004 election, albeit with different results, environmentalist candidate Jerry McNerney took Republican Rep. Richard Pombo’s seat with more than 10,000 votes.
With only 170 votes separating Republican Rep. Rob Simmons and Democrat Joe Courtney, who is leading, Connecticut’s 2nd District still is awaiting verification by the state’s Board of Elections. If Democrats win the seat, it will extend their majority to 29 seats.
Republicans and Democrats are watching two other races that do not have official results yet: New Mexico’s 1st District, where Air Force veteran Rep. Heather Wilson appears close to fending off her Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid by fewer than 2,000 votes.
And in the southern suburbs of Seattle in Washington’s 8th District, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert appears headed to victory, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, though he trailed Democrat Darcy Burner in recent polls.
Two races in GOP strongholds where Democratic challengers came close to pulling off upsets included Wyoming’s at-large seat, where Rep. Barbara Cubin won against local politician Gary Trauner, and North Carolina’s 8th District, where 460 votes separated Rep. Robin Hayes, who was leading, from her Democratic opponent Larry Kissell.
The Republicans were unable to pick up the two seats considered Democratic vulnerabilities. In Georgia’s 8th District, Rep. Jim Marshall fought off former GOP Rep. Mac Collins. President Bush had shown up at a campaign rally to urge supporters to vote for Collins.
And in Illinois’ 8th District, Democrat Rep. Melissa Bean defended her seat from GOP challenger David McSweeney, winning by nearly 8,000 votes.
Late-night victories for Democrats
Two Iowa districts switched party affiliation as Democrat Bruce Braley beat GOP businessman Mike Whalen in the race to fill the seat vacated by failed gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle. In the 2nd District, Cornell College professor Dave Loebsack defeated the Republican incumbent Jim Leach in a relatively close campaign.
Other races in the Midwest which saw changes from GOP to Democratic-held seats were those in the Wisconsin 8th District and the Minnesota 1st District. In the former, State Assembly Speaker John Gard lost his bid to keep the seat Republican to Democrat allergist Steve Kagen. In the latter, National Guard veteran Tim Walz defeated GOP incumbent Gil Gutknecht who had held the seat since 1995.
Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley joined his colleague Rep. Charles Bass in losing his New Hampshire seat to a Democratic challenger in the state’s 1st District.
In Arizona, former Tucson mayor and state Sen. Harry Mitchell defeated prominent Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth in another tight election.
One of the country’s most hotly contested races was the Colorado 7th District where Democrat Ed Perlmutter beat Republican Rick O’Donnell in a district nearly evenly divided between Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters.
The GOP did emerge victorious in Connecticut’s 4th District, where moderate Republican Rep. Chris Shays fended off a strong challenge from Democrat Diane Ferrell.
Many more seats were too close to call, including the closely watched race in the New Mexico 1st District where Air Force veteran and Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is in danger of losing her seat. Other close races including the 6th and 8th districts in Pennsylvania, the 2nd District in Connecticut, and the at-large seat in Wyoming.
Congressional scandals were cited in exit polls as a significant factor in the wave of Democratic victories, including the indecent e-mails former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., sent teenage congressional pages. Due to Florida election law, Republican state leaders were unable to take Foley’s name off the ballot after he resigned, and his replacement, Joe Negron, was unable to keep the seat from going to Democratic businessman Tim Mahoney.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds was able to hold onto his seat in New York’s 26th District, even though he admitted to having some knowledge of Foley’s actions earlier this year. Other districts which may have been affected by that scandal included Arizona’s 8th District, where Democrat Gabrielle Giffords beat Republican Randy Graf in the seat vacated by openly homosexual Rep. Jim Kolbe.
Also in Florida, Republican Rep. Clay Shaw lost to Democratic challenger Ron Klein in a clash of personalities and political ideologies in the 22nd District. Jim Kane, who heads the Florida Voter Polling Group, told the NewsHour the Iraq war was a factor in this race.
“There seems to be no end [to the war] in sight in [the voters’] mind, and they seem to believe that it’s really been mismanaged, and needlessly so. And that’s the foundation for all the attitudes that we see in this district,” said Kane.
Texas’ 22nd District, which used to be occupied by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay swung as predicted to the Democrats, in part due to the peculiarities of the state’s election law that forced the Republican nominee, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, to run as a write-in candidate. Property tax assessor Nick Lampson defeated Sekula-Gibbs.
Other close races included North Carolina’s 11th District, where Democrat and former Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler defeated GOP Rep. Charles Taylor, and New York’s 20th District where Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand beat incumbent Rep. John Sweeney. Also in New York, singer/songwriter John Hall proved he was “still the one” by beating Republican Rep. Sue Kelly in the 19th District.
There also were a couple of surprise pickups for the Democrats, including Kansas’ 2nd District where former Olympian Rep. Jim Ryun lost his House seat to challenger Nancy Boyda. In Pennsylvania’s 4th District, Rep. Melissa Hart lost to Democrat Jason Altmire in part for her conservative positions on stem cell research and abortion.
New England and Midwest seats go to Democrats
In Connecticut, Democratic state Sen. Chris Murphy defeated Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson in a district where the Iraq war has been a major campaign issue. Democrats are looking to pick up two other seats in Connecticut where Republicans Chris Shays and Rob Simmons are in danger of losing their seats.
In New Hampshire’s 2nd District, Republican Rep. Charlie Bass lost his seat in a rematch with Democrat Paul Hodes, even though he was re-elected in 2004 by 20 percentage points.
Republican corruption scandals were too much for voters in Pennsylvania’s 7th District and Ohio’s 18th District where incumbent Curt Weldon lost to Joe Sestak and Democrat Zack Space defeated Joy Padgett to pick up Rep. Bob Ney’s former seat. Ney had resigned after being tied to former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is involved in a federal investigation into possible illegal exchanges of gifts and services on Capitol Hill.
Also in Pennsylvania, Republican incumbent Don Sherwood lost to Democrat Chris Carney. Sherwood had recently been under scrutiny for allegations of an extramarital affair.
Republican Rep. Geoff Davis was able fend off Democrat Kenneth Stepp in Kentucky’s 4th District race. Other Republican holds including the 8th District in North Carolina, the 2nd District in Virginia and the 13th District in Florida.
Democrats make gains in Ohio River valley
In the first batch of election results, the Democrats picked up four seats in Kentucky and Indiana in their quest to take back control of the House for the first time since 1994.
“We are on the brink of a great Democratic victory,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as she rallied supporters Tuesday evening.
As polls closed around the country, “I’d rather be us than them,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In Indiana’s 9th District, Republican incumbent Mike Sodrel lost his seat to former Rep. Baron Hill, giving the Democrats a sweep of the key races in the Hoosier State.
It was the third time the two have faced off against each other. In 2002, Hill defended his House seat against Sodrel but was unable to do so again in 2004. With public sentiment turning against Republicans, according to polls close to the elections, Sodrel was not expected to be able to hold off Hill.
Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth defeated Republican incumbent John Hostettler in Indiana’s 8th District in a race many prognosticators predicted would switch parties. Hostettler had been a prominent voice for social conservatives in the House.
Also in Indiana, Joe Donnelly picked up a seat for the Democrats in the 2nd District, beating incumbent Chris Chocola in a repeat match-up of the 2004 congressional race. The national Republican Party had pulled money out of the district in late October, leading many pundits to predict the Democrats would win this race.
In Kentucky’s 3rd District, alternative newspaper founder John Yarmuth defeated Republican Rep. Anne Northup in another bellwether race. Voters in that district supported both former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in their 2000 and 2004 respective presidential runs, but Northup has held the seat against numerous tough opponents since 1996.
Early estimates predict Democrat pickups
Analysts say nearly 50 of the 435 seats are in play — many of which have Republican incumbents — and some are predicting the Democrats may secure anywhere from 10 to 40 seats.
And while nationwide polls have shown trends favoring Democrats, Republican leaders said that their local polling shows they can maintain their majority.
“If you take a national average, the Democrats will appear stronger, but in fact, if you look at it race by race, it will be a lot closer than the national numbers might indicate,” Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Friday.
In the same program, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said that his party would win the House and could also capture the Senate.
While most of the competitive races are in the East, there are a few races in the West that may tilt the balance even further in favor of the Democrats. The most prominent of those races is in Albuquerque, N.M., where Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is battling Democrat Patricia Madrid in the state’s 1st District.
On the West Coast, where polls close at 11 p.m. ET, Republican Rep. Richard Pombo is in danger of losing his seat in California’s 11th District to Democrat Jerry McNerney. In the southern suburbs of Seattle in Washington’s 8th District, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert has trailed Democrat Darcy Burner in recent polls, but most political analysts are labeling the race a toss-up.
In terms of possible Republican pickups, Georgia’s 8th District represents one of the few opportunities, as Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall is in a tight race against former GOP Rep. Mac Collins. President Bush recently showed up at a campaign rally to urge supporters to vote for Collins.