Republicans retained their grasp on the U.S. House and immediately pledged to serve as a check on President Obama's second term and a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Republicans headed into Election Day with 242 seats under their control, and Democrats held 193. While Democrats made inroads in a handful of congressional districts, they were falling short of winning the additional 25 seats needed to seize the majority.
"Twenty-five was always a daunting number," said Jessica Taylor, an analyst with the independent Rothenberg Political Report. "To get there, everything had to go right" for Democrats.
One big roadblock to any sweeping partisan change: the redrawing of congressional districts after the last Census. The 2010 GOP takeover of legislatures in 26 states helped Republicans protect their incumbents in swing districts -- while vulnerable Democrats in places such as North Carolina were drawn into more competitive districts.
In addition, the hard-fought presidential race has overshadowed this year's congressional contests, and neither Obama nor Republican nominee Mitt Romney has had a last-minute surge that could help lift others in their party to victory.
Political observers say any Democratic gains are likely to remain in single digits -- in stark contrast to the previous three election cycles when more than 20 seats have changed hands. "This is not a big wave election," said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
"We will have a Congress that is very similar ideologically to the one we have now," he said. "We will have a House that tilts to the right, a Senate that is likely to be controlled by Democrats who tilt to the left, and it will be very difficult to reach compromise."
A persistent partisan divide will make it difficult to pass major legislation in the next Congress.
"President Obama has been given a second chance but not the right to pursue a second term the way he pursued his first," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who oversees Republican election efforts. "The People's House serves at the will of the voters, and those voters delivered a resounding message that they want a check on the president."
While the partisan contours remain largely the same, Tuesday's election will bring changes to the U.S. House -- as a combination of retirements and redistricting guarantees that dozens of new members will enter Congress in January.
The election, for instance, marked the return of a Kennedy to Congress.
Joe Kennedy III, 32, son of a former congressman and the grandson of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, beat Republican Sean Bielat in their battle to replace liberal icon Rep. Barney Frank, who is retiring.
It also meant the return of familiar faces. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan sailed to victory in one contest Tuesday night -- his race for the southeast Wisconsin seat he has held since 1998. State law allowed him to compete in both races at the same time.
Dwindling Blue Dogs
Overall, nearly 70 competitive seats were in play heading into the election as several of the 87 House GOP freshmen elected in 2010 faced tough challenges, moderate Democrats in the South struggled to retain their seats and incumbents battled incumbents in newly drawn districts around the country.
GOP-led redistricting in several states put Blue Dog Democrats in less-friendly territory, and Tuesday's results made the already shrinking coalition of moderate Democrats in the House even smaller.
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