WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats solidified their control of the northeast and made gains in the South on Tuesday by defeating Republicans from Connecticut to Arizona as they pushed for historic gains in their majority.
"It's the night we have been waiting for," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Ousting 22-year veteran Rep. Chris Shays in Connecticut gave Democrats every House seat from New England. And their victory in an open seat on New York's Staten Island gave them control of all of New York City's delegation in Washington for the first time in 35 years.
Democrats ousted four Republican incumbents and captured five open GOP seats. Republicans knocked off two Democratic incumbents.
With nearly 300 of the 435 House races decided, Democrats held leads for more than a dozen other Republican-held seats. Republicans threatened to oust fewer than a handful of Democrats.
Democrats were headed for the first time in more than 75 years that their party rode to big House gains in back-to-back elections.
"This will be a wave upon a wave," Pelosi said.
In the South, high school civics teacher Larry Kissell won election in North Carolina, defeating Republican Rep. Robin Hayes.
In Florida, GOP Rep. Tom Feeney – under fire for ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff – was the first incumbent to fall, losing to former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas. To the east, Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., lost to Democratic attorney Alan Grayson, in an increasingly Hispanic district in Orlando.
Democrats capitalized on the uncommonly large number of Republican departures, winning seats long in GOP hands. Former congressional staffer Dan Maffei won election to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Jim Walsh, becoming first Democrat in nearly 30 years to represent the district around Syracuse, N.Y.
In Illinois, Democrat Debbie Halvorson, the speaker of the state Senate, won election to a seat held by retiring GOP Rep. Jerry Weller in the swing exurbs and rural areas south of Chicago.
The news wasn't all good for Democrats. Republican attorney Tom Rooney defeated first-term Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney of Florida, who had admitted to two extramarital affairs just weeks before Election Day.
And Republican Bill Cassidy dealt Rep. Don Cazayoux, D-La., elected in a special election six months ago, a bruising defeat.
But other freshman Democrats once considered vulnerable cruised to easy re-election.
First-term Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Indiana's Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth, and New Hampshire's Rep. Carol Shea-Porter won easy re-election. They were part of a crop of freshman Democrats in conservative-leaning districts who began compiling campaign war chests and moderate voting records almost from the moment they were elected two years ago, leaving only a few of them endangered on Tuesday.
Former five-term Republican Rep. Anne Northup was unable to mount a comeback in Louisville, Ky., against Yarmuth despite GOP presidential nominee John McCain's decisive victory in the state.
Democrat Jim Himes, a Greenwich businessman, defeated Shays in a wealthy southwestern Connecticut district despite Shays' highly publicized late criticism of McCain's presidential campaign.
In New York, city councilman Mike McMahon won the race on Staten Island to succeed GOP Rep. Vito Fossella, who was forced to resign amid drunk driving charges and revelations that he fathered a child from an extramarital affair.
In 2006, Democrats won 30 seats and control of Congress in a surge powered by voter anger over the Iraq war.
This year the sour economy and public antipathy for President Bush posed the biggest challenges for Republican candidates. The Democrats were aided by a wave of GOP retirements and huge financial and organizational advantages over Republicans.
That's despite voter hostility toward the Democratic-controlled Congress. Just one in five voters
Tuesday approved of the job Congress was doing, about as poorly as Bush fared, according to AP exit polling.
Six in 10 voters cited the economy as the most important issue facing the nation. About half said the economy is poor and nearly all the rest said it's not good. The results were based on a preliminary partial sample of nearly 10,000 voters in Election Day polls and in telephone interviews over the past week for early voters.
Democrats now control the House by a 235-199 margin, with one vacancy.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the majority leader, breezed to re-election, as did Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the No. 4 Democrat.
GOP lawmakers at risk included Alaska's Rep. Don Young, Colorado's Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, and Michigan's Reps. Tim Walberg and Joe Knollenberg. Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, once considered a safe bet for re-election, is also in major trouble.
In some of the first states to report, Rep. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who encountered trouble that few expected just weeks ago, easily won re-election. And Republicans held onto the Kentucky seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Ron Lewis, when Republican Brett Guthrie was elected
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski survived a tough fight. Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs a subcommittee with the most influence on the Pentagon's spending, who had a scare after calling his district south of Pittsburgh "racist," won easy re-election.
Republicans were fighting on a playing field skewed by the departure of 29 of their members, leaving lesser-known GOP contenders to battle better-financed Democrats in races shaped in large part by antipathy toward Bush.
Both parties took in huge amounts of campaign cash in House races, although Democrats had a clear edge. Democratic candidates raised $436 million, compared with Republicans' $328 million, according to federal data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The parties' campaign committees also bankrolled the most competitive races, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pouring in $76 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee spending $24 million.
Because of hurricanes that delayed October primaries, the winners of two Louisiana seats – one that belonged to retiring Republican Rep. Jim McCrery and another now held by indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson – won't be known until December. Those districts held primaries Tuesday.