WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans recaptured control of the House early Wednesday, besting Democrats in a billion-dollar battle and ensuring that the chamber will be dominated by their conservative agenda. Reacting to President Barack Obama's re-election, House Speaker John Boehner said the voters want both parties to find common ground on repairing the economy.
Past midnight in the East, Democrats had knocked off 12 GOP House members — including 10 members of the huge tea party-backed House GOP freshman class of 2010. Republican losers included four incumbents from Illinois, two each from New Hampshire and New York, and one apiece from Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Texas.
Republicans nearly matched, picking up nine previously Democratic seats. Their candidates defeated one Democratic incumbent apiece in Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and picked up an open seat each in Arkansas, California, Indiana, North Carolina, and Oklahoma currently held by Democrats who retired or ran for another office.
With almost 90 percent of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 224 seats and were leading in 15 more. For a majority in the chamber, a party must control 218 seats. Democrats had won 170 seats and were leading in 25 others.
It appeared likely that the two parties' margins in the new Congress would closely resemble the current tally. Republicans control the chamber by 240 to 190, plus five vacancies: two seats once controlled by the GOP and three by Democrats. Early Wednesday, it remained in doubt whether either party would ultimately have a net gain.
Among those re-elected to his seat: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the vice presidential candidate on the defeated GOP ticket with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.
Shortly after Obama's re-election was clear, Boehner — re-elected without opposition — spoke of voters' message of compromise. That was a stark departure from the House GOP's general tone over the past two years, which have been marked by numerous bitter clashes with Obama over deficit reduction, taxes and spending.
"If there is a mandate, it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt," Boehner said in a written statement.
Earlier in the evening, Boehner had seemed more combative.
"The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority," he said at a gathering of Republicans in Washington. "The American people also made clear there's no mandate for raising tax rates."
One of the top fights when Congress returns for a postelection session this month will be over the looming expiration of income tax cuts first enacted a decade ago under President George W. Bush. Republicans want to renew them all, while President Barack Obama wants the cuts to expire for the highest-earning Americans.
In remarks to Democrats just blocks from where Boehner spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would be "fighting for reigniting the American dream, building ladders of opportunity for people who want to work hard and play by the rules and take responsibility."
Pelosi, who was easily re-elected, has not said definitively whether she will continue to serve as Democratic leader.
Though 10 GOP freshmen were defeated on Election Day, 69 of them were re-elected by early Wednesday in the East. Two others were leading in their races but one was trailing. An exit poll of voters conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Research showed that just 21 percent said they backed the tea party, which had fueled the big GOP House gains in 2010.
The GOP victory in the House contrasted with party's performance elsewhere on the national stage. Besides Obama's win, Democrats held control of the Senate and still could add slightly to their numbers there.
Democrats in Illinois controlled the redrawing of congressional districts after the latest Census, and the new lines proved too tough for several incumbent House Republicans. Conservative tea party freshmen Reps. Joe Walsh and Bobby Schilling lost, as did moderate freshman Robert Dold and seven-term veteran Judy Biggert, a social moderate.