Geographic shift seen in House races

Democrats appear likely to pick up seven seats in the House of Representatives when all the races are counted, which is nowhere near the 25 the party needed to regain a majority but is at the upper end of the number they were projected to win this cycle.

With eight seats up in the air as of late Wednesday evening, The Associated Press called 193 seats for Democrats and 232 for Republicans.

Democrats lead in six of the eight races that were too close to call, and if those projections hold, the partisan makeup of the House will shift slightly. Democrats previously held 193 seats to Republicans’ 242.

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Though Democrats initially had high hopes for strong gains in the House — touting 50 candidates in districts they hoped to flip and devoting nearly two-thirds of their expenditures to offensive efforts — Republicans managed to hold onto a number of hotly contested seats and ultimately flipped at least nine districts.

Republicans did face losses in some of the states Democrats had targeted as battlegrounds, where they had hoped the majority would be won, but those contests, in New York, Illinois and California, were by no means decisive for either party.

Democrats managed to pick up four seats in Illinois, but they had a more mixed showing in New York, where they flipped two seats and successfully defended three more. Republicans, however, managed to hold on in two of the districts Democrats had targeted, and they also defeated vulnerable incumbent Kathy Hochul.

Many of California’s races remained too close to call as of Wednesday evening.

Unlike 2010, however, when Republicans posted historic gains in the House, the 2012 landscape offered no evidence of a wave and no sign of the national mood shifting in favor of one party or another.

A clear shift could be seen, however, geographically: The South became redder, while the New England region is now a deeper shade of blue.

Republicans unseated Rep. Ben Chandler (D) in Kentucky’s 6th district and picked up three seats in North Carolina, defeating Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in the 8th district and taking open seats in the 11th and 13th. The GOP also flipped Arkansas’ 4th district, turning the state’s delegation solid red.

Kissell and Chandler were two of three Blue Dog Democrats who lost on Tuesday night, and their defeats, combined with that of Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) and a number of retirements this year, diminished the centrist Democrats’ already thin ranks from 24 to 15. In Georgia and Utah, however, Blue Dogs John Barrow and Jim Matheson survived strong GOP challenges.

The Tea Party, too, took a beating. The movement that swept so many hard-right candidates into office became more of an unmentionable this time around, and two of its highest-profile darlings, Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Allen West (R-Fla.), faced serious scares. Though Bachmann eked out a win, West was trailing Democrat Patrick Murphy by fewer than 3,000 votes, though he’s called for a recount that will likely take days to complete.

In New England, with their wins in New Hampshire’s 1st and 2nd districts, respectively, Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster completely flipped the state’s congressional delegation, turning it from all-male Republican to all-female Democratic. 

Democratic Reps. John Tierney in Massachusetts’ 6th district and David Cicilline in Rhode Island’s 1st both held on against strong challenges from centrist Republicans, and Democrat Elizabeth Esty took Connecticut’s open 5th district seat.

The deepening of the GOP’s strength in the South might be difficult to undo in coming elections. Republicans consider North Carolina’s 8th, 11th and 13th districts, as well as Arkansas’s 4th and Kentucky’s 6th, among others, enduring gains for the parties that have little chance of flipping in coming years.

Democrats say they see gains in Illinois’s 8th (where Democrat Tammy Duckworth won), 10th (where they knocked off Republican Robert Dold) and 11th (where they beat Republican Judy Biggert) as districts they’ll likely hold onto. 

They are also optimistic about California’s 7th district, which has yet to be called but in which Democrat Ami Bera is leading Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, and the 41st, an open seat they also hope to win when all the votes are counted, as seats they will hold for the foreseeable future.