WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans turned aside crucial Democratic challenges in region after region yesterday and headed towards extending their eight-year control of the House of Representatives.

Democratic hopes of regaining the chamber dimmed as Republicans chalked up wins or were leading in most of the races earlier seen as toss-ups. Americans voted to fill all 435 House seats, but only a tenth of them were truly competitive.

Early today with only Alaska’s polls still open, Republicans had won 195 seats and were leading in 32 others. If that trend continued, Republicans would hold 227 seats – four more than they do in the current Congress. Majority control requires 218 votes.

Traditionally, the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections. But this year, Republicans appeared to be helped by President Bush’s popularity and by the relatively low number of competitive races.

Democrats needed a net gain of seven seats to reclaim the control they lost in 1994. As returns rolled in, it seemed likely they would fall far short – not only failing in some high-profile challenges to Republican incumbents but also losing some of their own incumbents.

In a closely watched Kentucky contest, three-term Republican Rep. Anne Northup defeated Democrat Jack Conway. Republican Jeb Bradley defeated Democrat Martha Fuller Clark for an open New Hampshire seat that had been Republican.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito won a second term in West Virginia, defeating Democratic challenger Jim Humphreys, a wealthy lawyer, in what was the most expensive congressional race in the country, with $9 million raised and spent.

Republicans won three of four races that featured incumbents running against other incumbents – the result of a redistricting to reflect population changes.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) defeated Rep. Jim Maloney (D-Conn.) and Rep. Charles Pickering (R-Miss.) defeated Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.). Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) defeated Rep. David Phelps (D-Ill.) in a downstate district. But a Republican incumbent was trailing the Democratic incumbent in a see-saw vote count in the other such race in Pennsylvania.

In another closely followed race, GOP businessman Chris Chocola won an open northern Indiana House seat that had been Democratic. In a Gulf Coast Florida race, Democratic Rep. Karen Thurmond was ousted by Republican Ginny Brown-Waite.

However, Democrats took formerly Republican seats in Tennessee and Maryland. In a Tennessee House seat vacated by Republican Van Hilleary to run for governor, Democratic State Sen. Lincoln Davis defeated Janice Bowling.

In the Maryland suburbs of Washington, eight-term moderate Republican Rep. Constance Morella lost to State Sen. Chris Van Hollen in the nation’s second most expensive race with $7 million in spending. In Baltimore, Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger defeated former GOP Rep. Helen Bentley for a vacant Republican seat.

On New York’s Long Island, Republican incumbent Felix Grucci was on the verge of defeat.

In a hard-fought battle for a new seat in eastern Georgia, Republican Max Burns, a college professor, defeated Democrat Charles “Champ” Walker. Democrats were leading for two other new Georgia seats.

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