WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Republican wins in a few critical match-ups helped expand the party's narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, although it was a good night for incumbents. With a handful of races left to be decided by recounts, the GOP seemed poised to win at least five new seats to give it a 21-seat margin.
By Wednesday afternoon, Republicans had won 227 seats and seemed likely to gain at least another in Colorado, where their candidate had a small but sustainable lead.
Although expanding their control of the House will matter little in practical terms -- the majority party has a much easier time controlling the agenda without a large margin than is possible in the Senate -- Tuesday's showing does indicate the GOP won the redistricting fight that comes once a decade along with the new census numbers.
This election was the first to reflect changes in congressional districts developed by each state legislature based on the 2000 Census. In several states that lost representatives in the census, incumbents were pitted against each other for control of the newly developed district.
In three of these cases, Republican incumbents dispatched Democratic incumbents. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., beat Rep. James Maloney, D-Conn.; Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus beat Democratic Rep. David Phelps; and in Mississippi, Republican Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering defeated Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows.
Only one Democratic incumbent managed to defeat a Republican incumbent challenger in a new district when Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., beat out Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa.
In another pick-up, the redistricting of Maryland Republican Connie Morella's seat allowed a Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Chris Van Hollen, to take the suburban Washington seat.
But even these victories by Democrats were offset by victories by Republican challengers in two key races. Democratic Rep. Karen Thurman of Florida lost to Virginia Brown-Waite and Republican challenger John Kline sent Minnesota Democratic Rep. Bill Luther in search of a new job.
Other GOP officeholders unsuccessfully targeted by the Democratic national organizations for defeat -- including the use of now banned "soft" money advertising -- included Reps. Jim Leach and Jim Nussle of Iowa, Anne Northup of Kentucky, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Mark Kennedy of Minnesota. They were all re-elected, in most cases by safe margins.
As the Democratic House leadership under Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri has now failed four straight elections to retake control of the House, some in the party are starting to call for change at the top.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Ky., told a radio interviewer that some in the caucus were starting to "ask some tough questions" about Gephardt's leadership.
"It's obvious that we need some fresh faces and in some cases, fresh ideas," he told syndicated talk show host Don Imus.
Democratic Party operatives contacted by United Press International refused to comment on the prospect of removing Gephardt.
But Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe placed the credit for the GOP's win at the hands of the president's last-minute campaigning rather than on his own party's leadership.
"If the Republicans had an edge over us yesterday, it was tactical rather than ideological," he said. "Ultimately, many of our candidates couldn't overcome the political muscle that carried many Republicans over the finish line.
"They had a wartime president with the highest sustained approval ratings in history, who made these elections his number-one domestic priority. He spent the year raising record amounts of money and the final three weeks stumping relentlessly for Republican candidates."