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Republicans Expand Control of Congress, Democrats Assess Losses

Republicans are tightening their control of the U.S. Congress in the wake of Tuesday's elections. Democrats are already asking tough questions about how they lost the presidential election and why they suffered new setbacks in the House and Senate.

In expanding their control of the 435-member House of Representatives, Republicans added to their majority in that chamber, and also made a bit of history.

Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, explained.

"For the first time ever, House Republicans have grown their majority in two consecutive cycles," he said. "This will mark our sixth consecutive cycle in power for the first time since 1928, and it marks the most members, 231, we've elected since 1946."

In the months leading to the election, House Democratic leaders predicted that as many as 14 incumbent Republicans might be defeated.

That didn't occur, and Democrats didn't even come close to the 12 seats they needed to pick up to take over control of the House.

In Texas, a Republican-crafted redrawing of congressional districts brought about the defeat of four of five Democratic incumbents, including two long-serving House members.

Before the election Republicans had a 227 to 205 majority in the House. They have now substantially increased that advantage, far above the 218 seats needed to control the chamber.

The election result means the powerful Republican House leadership combination of speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay will remain in place as the 109th Congress convenes in January.

Perhaps the sharpest blow to Democrats came in the Senate, where Minority Leader Tom Daschle was defeated in his home state of South Dakota, the first Senate party leader in 50 years to lose a re-election bid.

"I've had the opportunity to serve our state as a member of the House of Representatives, as a member of the U.S. Senate, as minority leader of the U.S. Senate, and majority leader of the U.S. Senate," he said.

In Senate races, Republicans did well in the South, and have expanded their 51 seat majority to 55, based on the latest results, out of 100 seats in the Senate.

Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Illinois, where Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and American mother, easily won a vacant seat, defeating a Republican challenger. He will be the only African-American in the Senate, when a new Congress convenes in January.

Democrats have already begun the process of assessing where they went wrong, not only in the presidential election but in Congress.

Congressman Albert Wynn is an African-American member of Congress.

"I think Democrats are going to be very careful not to make any kind of snap judgments or knee-jerk reactions, to say we have to go to the [political] center, or it's about moral issues," he explained. "I think we have to evaluate, step back and do a critical evaluation. And we have to make the distinction between casting blame and critical evaluation."

Congress will return to work briefly later this month in what is called a lame duck session to deal with unfinished legislative business from the 108th Congress.

However, Republican leaders in the Senate and House are already discussing the agenda for the new 109th Congress in January, as they wait to hear from President Bush about his agenda.