WASHINGTON — House Republicans drew first blood Tuesday as they ousted a Democrat from Kentucky and won two open Democratic seats in North Carolina as they fought to retain control of the House for two more years.
GOP attorney Andy Barr defeated Democrat Ben Chandler Tuesday after losing to him by just 647 votes in 2010. Chandler, among a dwindling number of moderate Blue Dog Democrats, has represented the district in Kentucky horse country surrounding Lexington, since 2004 but faced voters who heavily favored Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who easily carried the state over President Barack Obama.
Republicans also picked up a pair of open seats in North Carolina, where the GOP redrew congressional districts to reflect the latest Census but to also make the seats difficult for Democrats to win. One had been held by Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, who announced his retirement after it became clear that his district would have been harder for him to win.
As polls closed in the East, South and Midwest, Chandler was the only incumbent to lose out of 106 current House office holders whose races were called by The Associated Press.
In early returns, 69 Republicans and 36 Democrats won re-election. They included House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was unopposed; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland; and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, another top Democrat.
Also winning was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., the Chicago lawmaker who took medical leave from Congress in June and has been at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment of bipolar disorder. His only campaigning has been by automated phone calls to voters.
Democrats had been hoping to add the 25 seats on Election Day that they would need to take control of the chamber from Republicans, or at least gain a healthy number of districts. But after both sides’ House candidates and their allies spent a record $1.1 billion campaigning, it appeared Democrats might pick up just a handful of seats.