WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans held a commanding edge in the House on Tuesday, on track to pad their majority at near historic levels after knocking out the last white Southern Democrats and claiming two seats in President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois.
The GOP won more than 190 seats as polls closed in the East and Midwest and was certain to surpass 218 if incumbents prevailed as expected in the West. Democrats had a few bright spots, but their hopes of keeping losses to a minimum quickly evaporated.
Republicans tightened their grip on the South, a steady march since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Republican Evan Jenkins, a Democrat-turned-Republican state senator, knocked out 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia.
Republican businessman Rick Allen prevailed over another Southern Democrat, five-term Rep. John Barrow of Georgia.
Republicans capitalized on growing dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama as voters took out their frustration on the party controlling the White House. The pervasive malaise nationwide also dragged down Democrats.
Aggressive in the midterms, Republicans won the seat of a retiring moderate Democrat Mike McIntyre in North Carolina, knocked out Democrat Joe Garcia in Florida and eased out freshmen Democrats Bill Enyart and Brad Schneider in southern Illinois. GOP challengers had the edge in Democratic seats in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Texas.
Some two dozen Democratic incumbents were in jeopardy but just a handful of Republicans faced competitive races as the 2010 GOP romp gave the party the upper hand in redrawing congressional districts favorable to Republicans.
In one bright spot for the Democrats, Gwen Graham, daughter of a former senator and governor, Bob Graham, knocked out two-term Rep. Steve Southerland in a Florida Panhandle district. Southerland's all-male fundraiser and quip about Graham attending lingerie parties doomed his re-election bid.
Obama's low approval ratings, around 40 percent, were a drag on Democrats, as was the electorate's unease with the Islamic State group threat, Ebola outbreak and job losses. Promising economic signs of a drop in the unemployment rate and cheaper gasoline failed to help the president's party, which typically loses seats in midterm elections.
The GOP, which currently controls 234 seats, was widely expected to exceed its tea party-boosted total of 242 seats in 2010. Republicans aimed to match the 246 of 1947-1949 when another Democrat, Harry S. Truman, occupied the White House. Democrats still hold the modern-day edge for most seats — 292 — in 1979.
"If we do, we're up in territory we've not seen," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "You're in pretty thin oxygen when you're up there as a Republican."
Republicans purposely lowered expectations at a gain of five to eight seats, but privately some said anything less than a net of a dozen seats would be a disappointment.
A solid GOP majority means Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can afford defections from his increasingly conservative caucus and still get legislation passed while Republicans would hold more committee seats to guide the party agenda. Republicans are counting on partnering with a GOP-led Senate.
Boehner raised $102 million to ensure that Republicans would tighten their grip on the House.
For Obama, a dozen House losses would be an ignominious distinction. The president, whose party lost 63 seats in 2010, would become the two-term president with the most midterm defeats, surpassing Truman's 74.
National Democrats worked furiously to keep the losses at a minimum, outraising Republicans $172 million to $131 million. But they were outspent by GOP-leaning outside groups that targeted Democrats, pumping $7 million against first-term Rep. Ami Bera in California.
Here's a look at some of the most noteworthy contests in the country:
The rival had a familiar face as Republicans in New York, New Hampshire, Arizona and Illinois challenged Democrats in a half dozen rematches. First-term Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., faced Nan Hayworth, who had her gay son in a last-minute ad question the labeling of his mom as a tea party extremist. Maloney is one of the openly gay members of Congress.
The election is certain to provide surprises with Republicans and Democrats pointing to the high number of undecided voters in the closing days. However, it's hard to imagine any result topping the June primary loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to little-known and underfunded professor Dave Brat. Giant-slayer Brat cruised to victory in the Richmond-area district.
Cantor was the lone Jewish Republican in the House. At the tip of New York's Long Island, state lawmaker Lee Zeldin hopes to be the House's new Jewish Republican, but he's locked in a close race with six-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop.
Republicans have struggled to win over female voters in presidential elections. Two likely House winners are certain to help with the GOP's image. In Utah, Mia Love would be the first black female Republican while in New York, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik, a former aide in President George W. Bush's administration, would be the youngest House member.
Two-term Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., who faces a 20-count indictment on tax fraud and other charges, beat back Brooklyn Democrat Domenic Recchia in a district straddling the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In Louisiana, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, who was caught on tape kissing a married aide, faltered in his re-election bid.
Former four-term Gov. Edwin Edwards, a father of a 1-year-old son at age 87, headed for a Dec. 6 runoff as a distinct long-shot to win a GOP-held seat. Edwards spent eight years in prison on various charges including racketeering and extortion.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.