Republicans blew Democrats out of the water during the 2010 midterm elections for the U.S. House on the strength of powerful tea party reaction to Barack Obama’s heavy emphasis on federal government management of lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness, gaining 63 seats and taking control of the body.

Now, almost no one was forecasting that the 2012 vote would produce any significant shift in the balance of power.

However, individual races could shed some light on the concerns voters still have: whether they want more of the federal intervention that has been dominant under the Obama administration or whether they would choose the smaller-is-better concept that Republicans have promoted.

In one race, that involving the popular and outspoken U.S. Rep Allen West in Florida, with only partial results available, he was leading challenger Patrick Murphy by a few thousand votes.

West had built a reputation as a tea party fan advocate for smaller government, but was shoved into the District 18 race against Murphy through redistricting, which left him facing an uphill battle.

With 91 percent of the precincts reporting, West led 147,138 to 145,305, which likely means a recount no matter the final outcome.

House Speaker John Boehner said tonight, when it became clear the GOP would maintain control of the House, that the body for the last two years “has been the primary line of defense for the American people against a government that spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much.”

“Our majority passed a budget that begins to solve the problem. … We offered solutions,” he said. “The American people want solutions.”

He also noted that “there’s no mandate for raising tax rates. Americans want solutions that will ease their burdens.”

The Wall Street Journal, which said prognosticators were expecting anything from a Republican gain of two seats to a Democratic gain of eight seats, identified about a dozen key races.

It cited:

  • California’s 9th District: There a 25-year-old Republican, Ricky Gill, the son of Indian immigrants, is challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney. McNerney came out a 52-48 victor.
  • California’s 30th District: The new district alignment will leave one Democrat falling short, as the race pits Brad Sherman, senior Democrat member of the House Financial Services Committee, against Howard Berman, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee. Sherman won 59-41.
  • California’s 36th: Democrat Raul Ruiz, a doctor, is appealing to the Latino population to try to overcome incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack. The two were tied 50-50.
  • Illinois’ 8th District: Tea party freshman Joe Walsh, who bucked not only the Washington establishment but also his own party at times, was beaten by disabled veteran Tammy Duckworth.
  • Illinois’ 17th District: Challenger Cheri Bustos defeated another popular tea party-backed congressman, Rep. Bobby Schilling, 53-47.
  • Utah’s 4th District: Mia Love, a rising Republican star who spoke at the Republican National Convention, is challenging Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. They were tied 50-50.
  • North Carolina’s 8th District: Rep. Larry Kissell, a Democrat, had been identified by the GOP as a pickup target. Former GOP Hill staffer Richard Hudson won 54-46.
  • New York’s 18th District: This is where former Clinton staff member Sean Patrick Maloney beat Rep. Nan Hayworth, another GOP freshman, 52-48.
  • Minnesota’s 8th District: GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack two years ago knocked off Democrat Rep. Jim Oberstar, but was defeated by Rep. Rick Nolan, 52-48.
  • Minnesota’s 6th District: Rep. Michele Bachmann has served in the district for several terms, but is being challenged by businessman Jim Graves. they were tied 50-50.

The Journal said, “Prospects for a big Democratic wave were never great during the 2012 election cycle, and their chances appear to have diminished, particularly as Mr. Romney closed in on Mr. Obama during October.”

Reporters John D. McKinnon and Corey Boles said the status quo “could strengthen the hand of House Speaker John Boehner as Republicans pivot to confront a wrenching set of decisions over fiscal issues at the end of the year – the ‘fiscal cliff.’ Mr. Boehner is likely to argue that success in holding his majority amounts to a mandate from voters to resist the tax increases Mr. Obama wants.”

Among the early winners in relatively easy victories was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Another was Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., a 32-year House veteran who heads the House Appropriations Committee.

Republican attorney Andy Barr beat Rep. Ben Chandler in Kentucky’s 6th District, the GOP picked up an open seat in North Carolina with a victory by former U.S. Attorney George Holding and the Republicans also won the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Heath Shuler in the Tar Heel State.

Two other Republicans linked closely with the tea party effort, Ted Yoho and Thomas Massie, won seats in Florida and Kentucky.

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