Democrats are on pace to gain at least 20 seats in the House of Representatives, handing Nancy Pelosi the most commanding majority of any Democratic speaker in a generation — and giving President-elect Barack Obama a solid legislative base.
With the result of many races still too close to call, Democrats seemed poised to increase their edge over the House’s demoralized and shrinking GOP minority to about 75 votes.
If trends hold, that would give the party its greatest majority since the early ‘90s — a lead so large even a 2010 GOP tidal wave comparable to the party’s 1994 54-seat gain wouldn’t be enough to take back control of the House.
The gains, while significant, seem unlikely to be the 30-plus increase many strategists had predicted — with a half-dozen Democratic incumbents facing unexpectedly tough re-election battles.
But even before the polls closed, many prominent Republican’s questioned their party’s direction and called for a new game plan that is more responsive to voters’ desire for change and economic stability.
Retiring Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis said Tuesday that the GOP will have to “retool” after the election because it has become “a white, rural, regional party.”
“We'll have to see what happens, but I suspect in urban areas across the country, Democrats will continue to make gains that they've made the last decade,” Davis said during an interview on MSNBC.
In a major blow to GOP moderates, Democrat Jim Himes picked off longtime Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), the last northeastern Republican in the House.
Michael Sachse, spokesman for Himes, says that the war and the economy undid Shays — common themes throughout the country.
“We’ve been talking about the economy since the beginning of the campaign. It was the voters’ No. 1 issue and they know that Jim is the one focused on it,” he said. Shays' "position on the economy and the war were too catastrophically bad.
A pair of Florida incumbents, Reps. Ric Keller and Tom Feeney, lost decisively and a third — Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — was hanging on to a slim lead against Democrat Joe Garcia, with about 40 percent of the vote counted.
New York Republican John R. Kuhl, another longtime incumbent, was trailing Democrat Eric Massa with about 90 percent of the vote.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Penn.) held off a tough challenge, but his western Pennsylvania Democratic colleague Paul E. Kanjorski was locked in a too-close-to-call race with nearly all votes counted.
West Palm Beach Democrat Tim Mahoney, who admitted to having an affair with a former staffer, lost to Republican Tom Rooney.
Democrats also lost a seat in Louisiana, where Don Cazayoux, a surprise winner in a special election this spring, lost to Republican Bill Cassidy in a conservative Baton Rouge area district.
Other Republicans in deep trouble as the returns come in: Phil English (R-Penn.) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.).