Democrats Making House Gains

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Republicans' reign over the House of Representatives faced a serious challenge Tuesday as a surge of Democratic support sparked by voter displeasure over the Iraq war and disapproval of President Bush and Congress gave Democrats a chance to regain a majority in the House for the first time since 1994.

CBS News estimates Democrats have gained 12 House seats.

With all 435 House seats up for grabs, a CBS News analysis rated 52 races as competitive — 48 of them involving Republican-held seats versus just four held by Democrats.

The Democrats' first pickup of a Republican seat was in Indiana, where county sheriff Brad Ellsworth was the winner over GOP incumbent John Hostettler, a leading voice for social conservatives who was first elected in 1994, CBS News estimates. Also, Nancy Johnson, Connecticut's longest-serving House member, lost her re-election bid and former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, a Democrat, defeated Republican Charles Taylor in North Carolina.

Other projected Democratic wins were:

  • Joe Donnelly, Baron Hill, Indiana
  • John Yarmuth, Kentucky
  • Zack Space, Ohio
  • Paul Hodes, New Hampshire
  • Christopher Carney and Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania
  • Chris Murphy, Connecticut
  • Michael A. Arcuri, New York
  • Ron Klein, Florida

    "We're seeing a huge turn in independent voters to the Democrats. National exit polls show a significant advantage for Democratic candidates," reports CBS News political consultant Stu Rothenberg.

    According to CBS News exit polls, voters said national issues outweighed local ones by roughly 2-to-1. Exit polls showed that nearly 60 percent of voters disapprove of the Iraq war. Most voters said their minds were made up at least a month ago.

    In addition to the Iraq war, Democrats have sought to capitalize on Republican scandals and the public's overall disenchantment with having the Presidency and both houses of Congress in the same party's hands.

    Republicans have spent months trying to beat back well-funded Democratic opponents in districts stretching from New Hampshire to California. In the campaign's homestretch, Democrats have widened the battlefield by going after Republicans in states that historically have been solid GOP territory, including Idaho and Kansas.

    Clusters of GOP-held seats in the Midwest and the Northeast alone could give Democrats the pickups they need to rise to power.

    Five Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania and three in Connecticut — more moderate areas of the country — could end up out of office. In the traditionally conservative Ohio River Valley, four GOP congressmen in Ohio and three in Indiana are fighting for their political lives.

    Also at stake: A Democratic win in the House will likely elevate Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California to speaker, making her the first woman to hold that office. Pelosi, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the nation and is notable for her sharp criticism of the Bush administration, would represent a big departure from current House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

    Remaining key races to watch:

  • Connecticut: Rep. Christopher Shays, a popular eight-term Republican, faces a tough challenge from anti-war Democrat Diane Farrell. Shays, a moderate who supports abortion rights and gun control, could be hurt by his continued support of the Iraq war.
  • Ohio: Rep. Deborah Pryce, who holds the No. 4 position in the GOP leadership, is one of the highest-ranking members of Congress in jeopardy of being ousted. Her Democratic opponent, county commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, has painted Pryce as a rubber stamp for President Bush and run ads accusing her of being part of the GOP leadership team that failed to protect pages from disgraced Republican congressman Mark Foley.
  • New Mexico: Rep. Heather Wilson, another popular Republican moderate, is locked in a tight race with Democratic state Attorney General Patricia Madrid in a district that has always elected Republicans since it was established in 1968. Again, the GOP incumbent's backing for the Iraq war has become an issue, while the Democrat is urging an exit plan. Wilson has also been caught up, however peripherally, in the congressional page scandal; she was a member of the House page board from 2001 to 2004, but says she knew nothing about Mark Foley's contacts with pages until recently.

    Two members of the rebellious Republican class of 1994 that swept Democrats from control had planned to run for re-election — but both recently resigned from Congress when they became ensnared in separate scandals.

    Bob Ney of Ohio pleaded guilty in the influence-peddling investigation surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, while Mark Foley of Florida admitted having sent sexually explicit electronic communications to underage males who worked as House pages. Democrats now have solid chances to win both of those seats.

    By contrast, the list of Democrats who appeared in electoral jeopardy to GOP challengers was short — Reps. Jim Marshall and John Barrow in Georgia. Both are in districts that were redrawn by the Republican legislature to make them more hospitable to the GOP.

    Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, at the center of a federal bribery investigation, appears headed for a December runoff. But his closest rival in a crowded field, Karen Carter, is also a Democrat, and the seat appears safely in the party's hands.

    In 37 states, voters were determining the fate of ballot initiatives, including whether to ban gay marriage, raise the minimum wage, endorse expanded embryonic stem cell research and — in South Dakota — impose the country's most stringent abortion restrictions.

    Already, this is projected to be the most expensive election cycle ever, at $2.6 billion.