The race in brief

WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans tightened their grip on the Senateearly Wednesday, capturing a string of Democratic seats across theSouth. Democratic leader Tom Daschle struggled for politicalsurvival in South Dakota.

Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic political star inthe making, easily won a seat formerly in Republican hands inIllinois, and will be the only black among 100 senators when thenew Congress convenes in January.

The GOP did most of the celebrating by far, taking Democraticopen seats in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina andLouisiana. Rep. David Vitter triumphed in Louisiana, the firstRepublican since Reconstruction to win a term in the Senate.

“The nation spoke that we’re on the right course, and we’ll stayon that course and hopefully accelerate it,” said Senate MajorityLeader Bill Frist of Tennessee. He said the results showed voterrejection of Democratic “obstructionism” in the Senate. He addedthat he expects the strengthened GOP majority will be called toconfirm one or more Supreme Court nominees.

At nearly 2 a.m. in the East, Republicans were assured of 52seats, one more than they control in the current Congress.

Three senate races remain unsettled

(AP) – In the one with the most far-reaching nationalimplications, Daschle trailed former Rep. John Thune narrowly withvotes counted in more than 85 percent of the precincts.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, led in her quest for a full termafter winning her seat by appointment from her father, thegovernor. She led former Gov. Tony Knowles.

In Florida, former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez led Democrat BettyCastor in a late, long count.

Republicans maintain House majority

WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans extended their decade-long hold onthe House for another two years and seemed likely to slightlyexpand their majority, knocking off four veteran Texas Democratsalong the way.

Among their few setbacks was the defeat of the longest servingGOP member of the chamber, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois.

Tuesday’s voting left Republicans ready to control the House fora dozen consecutive years, the first time they have achieved thatfeat since the 12 years that ended in January 1933. With the GOPalso renewing its command of the Senate, the party was assured ofreigning over Congress, though with narrow majorities that shouldallow Democrats to slow and even derail some Republicaninitiatives.

GOP leaders were jubilant. The two chambers’ leaders, HouseSpeaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader BillFrist, R-Tenn., were already planning their agenda.

“One of the first things that Senator Frist and I want to do …is make sure that we can continue to supply better health care forthe American people,” Hastert said in an interview. “Take care ofthose people who don’t have it. Also work and make sure that wetake care of our men and women who are fighting overseas and tomake this country even stronger against terrorist attack.”

By early Wednesday morning in the East, Republicans had won 225seats and were leading in seven others, which could give them atleast 232 seats. That would be an effective three-seat gain for theGOP. Democrats had 196 seats and led in six.

There are 435 seats in the House, with 218 needed for majoritycontrol.

Republicans hold a 227-205 advantage over Democrats in theoutgoing House, plus two vacant seats formerly held by Republicanswho have retired and one independent who sides with Democrats.