WASHINGTON — Republicans won enough crucial races Tuesday to retain control of the House of Representatives, beating back a strong Democratic challenge and allowing the GOP to keep pushing an agenda of fiscal austerity.
The GOP was on track to hold on to a strong majority in the chamber, according to early returns, ensuring that House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, remains the dominant Republican legislator in negotiations over government spending in the months ahead.
The continued GOP dominance in the House probably will lead to renewed clashes with Senate Democrats, with whom Boehner's conservative caucus feuded for the past two years in budget battles that brought the federal government to the brink of defaulting on its debt.
Those partisan showdowns made the 112th Congress the least-popular in history. Although that seemed to bode ill for incumbents — several in both parties fell to primary challengers in the spring and summer — voters Tuesday followed an old axiom: They loathe Congress but support their local congressman.
Many incumbents survived because of a redistricting process that left a record-low number of competitive seats, cloistering Republicans and Democrats together into geographically odd — but politically homogenous — districts. In Florida, where population growth boosted the delegation to 27 seats, only six races were considered competitive entering Election Day.
Even the most outspoken partisan from Florida, freshman Rep. Allen West, R, held a slight lead over his challenger late Tuesday, due in part to his move north into a more Republican-leaning district where his controversial statements were considered less inflammatory. Conversely, Alan Grayson — a liberal firebrand tossed out in the 2010 wave — was set to return to the House from a new district that tilts heavily toward Democrats.
West led by fewer than 2,000 votes with nearly all precincts reporting. In Chicago's northwest suburbs, Iraq war veteran and former Obama administration official Tammy Duckworth knocked off Rep. Joe Walsh, an outspoken conservative who ran an aggressive campaign. By late Tuesday, Walsh was the only freshman Republican to have been defeated, although several more trailed. In Minnesota, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who founded the Tea Party Caucus months before the 2010 midterms, was locked in a fight for her political life, leading businessman Jim Graves by fewer than 2,000 votes with more than half the vote left to be counted.