The GOP roared past the 39-seat gain needed to retake control of the House in Tuesday's election and appeared headed to a historic rout -- with some projections showing an increase of 60 or more seats, far surpassing the 52-seat swing in 1994's so-called Republican Revolution.
The decisive Republican surge raised the possibility of the Democratic Party falling below 200 seats in the 435-seat House for the first time since 1948.
As a result, the House promises to become the key battleground for an assault on Obama administration policies, including healthcare, taxes and federal spending.
John A. Boehner of Ohio, expected to be the new speaker of the House, pledged an aggressive agenda in remarks at a rally in Washington late Tuesday. "This is not a time for celebration," Boehner said. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
Boehner grew emotional as he spoke, nearing tears as he said, "I've spent my life chasing the American dream," and the ballroom crowd chanted, "USA! USA! USA!" It was a notable moment that captured how far the party had come from two years ago, when it was at a low point.
The Republican resurgence crashed down on Democratic veterans and first-termers alike, sending them to defeat in every region of the country. The GOP was close to claiming four seats in traditionally Democratic New York state, while Democratic committee chairmen such as Reps. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina and Ike Skelton of Missouri went down.
All year, Republican candidates have run against the policies set forth by President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. But campaigning and governing are vastly different missions -- a lesson that was imparted to congressional Democrats in this election. Now, many of those victorious GOP candidates will be charged with legislating, rather than tossing barbs at the opposition.
Boehner would preside over what could be an unruly majority, filled with a bevy of neophyte representatives who have vowed to shrink the size of government, curtail federal spending and repeal the healthcare overhaul that Obama made a centerpiece of his early agenda.
At the same time, Boehner and the GOP will be tasked with keeping the government running, an issue that could surface early in his reign if the lame-duck Congress fails to pass a sweeping funding measure in the next month.
"He's got to figure out how to put together a majority that can vote to fund the government," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. Many of the new members "will be allergic to spending votes."
Given the heavy Republican gains, Boehner will have some breathing room. He'll also potentially be able to attract moderate Democrats -- that is, the ones who survived Tuesday's election -- who will be eager to demonstrate their conservative credentials before running again in 2012.
"There's an opportunity to put together a pretty broad bipartisan coalition," Weber said.
But gridlock is also possible given that the Senate was projected to stay Democratic and Obama will be in the White House, ready to veto any bill that threatens his agenda. For that reason, a repeal of the healthcare legislation is unlikely, although that won't stop Republicans from bringing the issue to the floor.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, expected to become the new GOP majority leader, said Tuesday that his colleagues had learned from the mistakes that led to their ouster four years ago. "We Republicans are a different party from the GOP of 2006," Cantor said in Richmond, Va. "Our years in the minority have chastened and disciplined our party."
Some Republicans, though, are thirsting to use their new oversight power to make life tough for the Obama administration. "Do I expect to have the hardest-working committee on [Capitol] Hill? I do," said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, in line to take over the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Jim Kessler, an analyst with Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington, said there was an opportunity for Obama and the GOP to find common ground on some issues, including the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year, as well as a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education mandate.
Kim Geiger and Jordan Steffen of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.