House Results: The GOP Bends But Doesn’t Break

Jessica Taylor November 7, 2012 · 4:15 PM EDT

While Republicans are a bit shell-shocked about the presidential and Senate results, House Republicans have reason for smugness. They kept control of their chamber after their sweeping 2010 gains and will likely keep their losses only in the single digits.

Sill, the outcome is something of a letdown for GOP insiders, many of whom had come to expect that their party could actually pick up seats – once unimaginable in the face of their 63 seat pickup just two years ago.

They were feeling good about vulnerable freshmen in Illinois, New York, Florida and California, and had a good crop of recruits, even in traditionally blue seats in the Northeast. They also smelled opportunity with some damaged Democratic incumbents.

But as the returns rolled in, strong Democratic numbers in many states in the presidential contest and in key states with important Senate contests raised red flags for Republicans.

While final results are not yet in for many districts, Democrats seem likely to gain from six to nine seats.

Democrats reversed their 2010 losses in the Granite State, sending both Carol Shea Porter and Ann Kuster to Congress after they fell short two years ago.

Republicans will lose four seats in Illinois, though they could gain as many as four in North Carolina, both thanks to partisan gerrymandering.

In Florida, Republican firebrand Allen West may have been a victim of Obama’s early vote turnout, and while a recount is likely to occur in the 18th District, Democrat Patrick Murphy looks well-positioned for victory.

In New York, both GOP freshmen Ann Marie Buerkle and Nan Hayworth were defeated, though private GOP polling showed them ahead or even with just days to go. Republicans did defeat 2011 special election winner Kathy Hochul (D), who represented the most Republican district in the state after redistricting, so Democratic net gains in the Empire State remain at one, and moderate GOP Rep. Chris Gibson hung on.

In Massachusetts, John Tierney’s surprising win may be one of the most puzzling of the night. It was the only “Lean Republican” race won by a Democrat.

While several Democratic operatives privately conceded the race weeks ago, acknowledging Tierney’s subpar campaign in the face of accusations about his wife’s family, the congressman eked out a narrow one-point win over moderate Richard Tisei (R), who ran a strong campaign.

Tisei probably fell victim to Democratic strength at the top of the ticket. Sen. Scott Brown lost his bid for re-election by a wide margin, and President Obama walloped Mitt Romney on his home turf.

For Democrats, their surprise was newly-elected Rep. Ron Barber’s closer-than expected challenge from Republican Martha McSally. After the former aide to Gabrielle Giffords won the June special election after his former boss resigned to continue her rehabilitation following an assassination attempt in January 2011, in which Barber too was injured, his district got about three points more Democratic.

McSally currently leads Barber narrowly but the race hasn’t been called because numerous Pima County provisional ballots are still outstanding. Republicans expect the majority of those to break their way. However, those same ballots may not be enough to make up the difference for Republican Jonathan Paton in the neighboring 1st District, where former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) leads him and looks headed back for Congress.

Republicans know they should have had better candidates in the Deep South, but were also up against moderate Democrats who ran stellar campaigns. In North Carolina, Democrat Mike McIntyre is hanging on by a few hundred votes against Republican David Rouzer. It’s a similar story in Georgia, where Rep. John Barrow (D) trounced Republican Lee Anderson, who was widely regarded as one of the weakest GOP nominees and even refused to debate Barrow. The Georgia Democrat may have had the best ads of any incumbent this cycle.

Amazingly, both Barrow and Matheson may end up representing districts McCain won by 56 percent in 2008, and when the 2012 number crunching is done Romney likely improved on that showing, especially in heavily-Mormon Utah, where the highly-touted Mia Love, who got a primetime speaking slot at the RNC, came up short against Rep. Jim Matheson (D).

Democrats did struggle in their uphill efforts to hold open GOP-leaning seats in Indiana, North Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and those relatively easy flips protected Republicans from major losses in the House.

Republicans still credit spending early for helping save some of their vulnerable incumbents, and caution the House results could have been much worse, considering the GOP’s two-seat loss in the Senate. The money advantage GOP outside groups still had over Democratic outside groups can’t be discounted either, though thanks to groups like House Majority PAC, Democrats were not as mismatched as they were in 2010.

Illinois proved to be a GOP bloodbath, despite GOP polls in the past weeks, both public and private, that showed Republicans could have held nearly every seat except Rep. Joe Walsh. But instead, the Republicans find themselves down four in the Land of Lincoln.

The Golden State has the potential to make Tuesday an even better night for Democrats, but it may be several days before we know the final outcome in several races. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) has come up short against Democrat Raul Ruiz. Even before her loss, Republicans were worrying about the strength of her campaign infrastructure.

While Republicans Dan Lungren and Brian Bilbray are still in too-close-to-call contests, Republican Jeff Denham was victorious over astronaut Jose Hernandez, and both Democratic Reps. Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps won. Republicans also picked up a Democratic-leaning seat in the 21st District.

Democrats now find themselves with a much better margin heading into 2014, but some of the seats they picked up, like the embattled David Rivera in Florida and both New Hampshire seats, could still be in swing territory in two years, and Republicans are sure to try to again challenge Barrow and McIntyre with better recruits next cycle. Most of the seats Republicans picked up, however, are traditionally GOP territory made possible by retirements, and it would be surprising if Democrats try to challenge those again.