A Republican tide moved across the country as Democratic incumbents fell or as the GOP captured open seats. All of the television networks projected the GOP winning at least 50 seats, more than enough needed to take over the House. Top Republicans gleefully claimed victory.
Such an electoral result means that Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, one of the Republicans' favorite targets, would lose the speaker's gavel. She will probably be replaced by Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, whose majority will be far more conservative than in years past.
"It's clear tonight who the winners are and that's the American people," Boehner said. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves and build a better future for our kids and grandkids."
Boehner proclaimed a new majority, composed of conservative Republicans who want a smaller government. At one point, he broke into tears and noted that he has spent his whole life "chasing the American Dream."
Going into the election, the GOP needed a net gain of 39 seats to have a majority in the 435-member House. It was a pointed midterm election, with the GOP on the attack while Democrats insisted they had done the best possible job in dealing with what they saw as an economic mess created by Republicans under former President George W. Bush.
Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, and with Barack Obama at the head of the ticket in 2008, increased their majorities in both the House and Senate. Obama defeated Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in 242 districts, while 193 went to McCain.
Forty-nine of McCain's districts elected a Democrat, often more conservative than the national party. They became special GOP targets.
In this year of voter anger and record political spending, Republicans galvanized their campaigns by turning hard to the right, campaigning against Obama's health insurance overhaul, economic stimulus packages and regulation of financial institutions.
In a clash of philosophies, Republicans argued that the healthcare plan was too costly and would create too much big government. The stimulus plan was also too costly, they said, would increase the debt and had failed to create enough jobs to lower the national unemployment rate of 9.6%. The Wall Street regulation bill would stifle the economic recovery, and more tax cuts were needed, the GOP contended.
Led by Obama, Democrats generally, though in some districts reluctantly, defended the health plan, narrowly passed in an ugly congressional battle. Democrats countered that their programs had kept the unemployment rate from rising and that the spending had helped ease the inherited recession -- though more still needed to be done.
On the philosophical level, Obama argued that there was a role for government in dealing with domestic crises like a collapsing economy. Government should also lead the way on issues such as new energy and education policies, he said.
The GOP focused on Pelosi as the face of a liberal House out of touch with mainstream America. In recent campaign swings, Obama tried to galvanize the coalition of the young, women and ethnic groups that had propelled him to the White House in 2008.