WASHINGTON -- Democrats tightened their grip on the House of Representatives yesterday, extending nearly four decades of control there as Republicans took the brunt of voter dissatisfaction over the budget fracas, ethics problems and other issues.
Incomplete returns indicated Democrats could pick up about four seats from the Republicans, who were already outnumbered in the last Congress by a margin of 260 to 175.
Although 98 percent of House incumbents were re-elected, some prominent lawmakers were turned out of office in upset races throughout the country.
As they had feared, Republicans seemed to be hurt most by the chaos in Washington over the budget, as well as by a decline in the political fortunes of President Bush, who had been stumping furiously for them throughout the country.
Among the GOP casualties was freshman Representative Peter Smith of Vermont, an early, vocal supporter of the doomed budget deal Mr. Bush negotiated with congressional leaders. Mr. Smith was ousted by independent candidate Bernard Sanders, a socialist who based his campaign on a critique of the mess in Washington and is also likely to vote with the Democrats.
But in a surprise twist, Representative Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the House minority whip who led the revolt against Mr. Bush's budget agreement with congressional leaders, apparently only narrowly survived a re-election challenge.
His opponent, attorney David Worley, contended that Mr. Gingrich had become such a player in national politics that he was no longer taking care of his constituents in suburban Atlanta.
Among the defeated was six-term Republican Stan Parris of Virginia, for whom Mr. Bush made a special appearance last Wednesday in hopes of heading off an upset by Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran.
In Florida, where the GOP proudly welcomed former Representative Bill Grant into their ranks shortly after his election in 1988 as a Democrat, the party switch did not sit well with his constituents. They again chose the Democrat, in this case Pete Peterson, a retired Air Force officer.
There was a bright spot for the GOP in Connecticut, where Waterbury Alderman Gary Franks defeated former Democratic Representative Toby Moffett to became one of the first two black Republicans elected to the House since 1932. The other new black GOP lawmaker elected yesterday was J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former mayor of Cincinnati, who bested current Mayor Charles Luken for an open seat.
Democrats were not immune to the damage of anti-incumbent themes, however. Seven-term Representative Doug Walgren of Pennsylvania was stunned by attorney Rick Santorum, who complained to voters in their suburban Pittsburgh district about the congressional pay raise and about special-interest money supporting Mr. Walgren's campaign.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Representative Robert Kastenmeier, a veteran of 32 years in Congress, was toppled by Republican Scott L. Klug, a former television news reporter who called the incumbent "torn, worn and outdated."
Other GOP incumbents who lost their seats yesterday included Representatives Chuck Douglas of New Hampshire and Denny Smith of Oregon. Close races were still being waged early this morning by John Hiler, R-Ind., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Chester Atkins, D-Mass., Jack Buechner, R-Mo., and James McClure Clarke, D-N.C.
As the majority party, the Democrats had an almost immediate advantage in this election. So many entrenched incumbents ran with little or no competition, all but about 80 of the 435 House races were decided before the first ballots were cast.
In addition, Democrats yielded only 11 of the 29 so-called "open seats" that were being vacated this year by incumbents who were not seeking re-election. Those represented most of the cliffhanger races.
A loss of House seats would not be unusual for the president's party in a midterm election. But the blow would seem more painful to the GOP than in past years because they also lost five seats when Mr. Bush was elected in 1988. So, they were already 83 votes behind.
Perhaps no one will feel the impact of GOP losses in the House more keenly than the president, who relies on his ability to sustain vetoes as his major source of power in dealing with Congress.
He needs 146 votes to muster the one-third necessary to block a veto override in the House if all members are present and voting.
Even with the current House roster of 175 Republicans, Mr. Bush lost several times during the last Congress on override votes there. His perfect record of 15-0 in veto showdowns with Congress was achieved because he could stop the override in the Senate, where GOP ranks have been stronger.
But the forces shaping this year's House races were believed to have less to do with national power politics than with local concerns and with the peculiarities of the individual candidates.