WASHINGTON — Republicans had a House majority within their grasp and pushed toward historic gains Tuesday as they ousted Democratic freshman and influential veterans in every region of the nation.
By midnight, the GOP captured enough Democratic-held seats to take control if they held their edge in undecided races.
By late evening, they had captured 50 seats held by Democrats and led in another 19 districts. Democrats had only picked up two Republican seats, and had lost some of their most powerful members, including Rep. John Spratt in South Carolina, the 14-termer who heads the Budget Committee, and Rep. Ike Skelton in Missouri, the Armed Services Committee chairman.
Republicans were on track to their biggest House gains since they picked up 80 seats in 1938.
The GOP needed to pick up more than 39 seats to win back control of the House that they lost in 2006.
Overall, Republicans had won 206 seats and led for 36 others. Democrats had won 143 and lead for 44.
Republicans quickly pledged to heed the message of angry voters who they acknowledged were rejecting what both parties had to offer.
"Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, in line to become speaker in a new Republican-led House.
GOP gains were particularly pronounced in the Rust Belt, with the party racking up two wins in Indiana, five each in Ohio and Pennsylvania, three in Illinois, and two in Michigan. They scored key victories from Maryland to Colorado and broken House Democrats' monopoly in New England by defeating Rep. Carol Shea Porter in New Hampshire.
Among the victims were Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus, Florida Reps. Suzanne Kosmas, Frank Kratovil of Maryland and Tom Perriello of Virginia, first-termers who backed key elements of Obama's agenda — the president even campaigned for Perriello — and were savaged for it by their Republican rivals.
But those who stressed their independence from their party, like Reps. Glenn Nye of Virginia and Travis Childers of Mississippi, also went down. Some old bulls also fell, including nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota, 13-term Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania and 20-year veteran Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas.
Democrats had few victories to celebrate. In one rare bright spot, John Carney handily beat Republican Glen Urquhart in the race to succeed GOP Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware's only House seat, which Castle left to unsuccessfully pursue a Senate seat. And in New Orleans, Democrat Cedric Richmond beat Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, who had campaigned as a friend of Obama.
A handful of Democrats heavily targeted by the GOP pulled through, including Reps. Betty Sutton of Ohio, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heath Shuler of North Carolina and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
But those successes were eclipsed by the scope of potential Democratic defeats. It was a remarkable turnabout from 2008, when Obama helped propel Democrats to big gains in their House majority only two years after the 2006 wave that swept them to control. This year, few Democratic incumbents felt safe, least of all the 51 who claimed Republican seats over the last four years.