- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

House Republicans picked up two additional seats this week, winning with “tea party”-backed candidates in New York and Texas to give the party a net gain of 63 seats with two races still undecided.

The GOP won in Texas when Democrat and 28-year-incumbent Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz conceded Tuesday to Republican challenger Blake Farenthold in Texas’ 27th District, along the state’s Gulf Coast.

Mr. Farenthold, a lawyer and co-host for conservative talk radio until the campaign, said Wednesday he intends to caucus with fellow House tea-party members, whose ranks could reach nearly 50 when the new Congress begins in January.

House Republicans now have 242 seats compared to 191 for Democrats in the next Congress. Senate Republicans won six seats in the midterm races and now have 47 compared to 53 for Senate Democrats, who picked up no additional seats.

Those numbers will change at the conclusion of the most closely watched of the undecided races, the Senate contest in Alaska. Republican and tea-party candidate Joe Miller is running against incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a write-in candidate who lost in the GOP primary to Mr. Miller.

Mrs. Murkowski has more votes than the other candidates, but the outcome cannot be certified because Mr. Miller has filed a lawsuit challenging how the state counted the handwritten, write-in votes.

Though Mr. Farenthold, 52, took a tough no-amnesty stance on illegal immigration during the campaign, he said the key factors in the race were jobs, the economy and the nationwide anti-incumbent sentiment.

“There was a perception that [Mr. Ortiz] was no longer engaged with voters. They never saw him,” said Mr. Farenthold, whose stepgrandmother is 84-year-old Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, an icon in liberal Democratic politics who nearly became Sen. George McGovern’s running mate in 1972.

Mr. Farenthold said his pending status kept him from participating in last week’s lottery for a Capitol Hill office, so he will take Mr. Ortiz’s room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

“I don’t care if they put in a cubicle in a cafeteria, which is where I was during [last week’s freshman] orientation,” he said. “I just want to get to Washington and serve the people.”

In New York, Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei conceded to Republican challenger and Sarah Palin-backed Ann Marie Buerkle in their District 25 race.

They were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday regarding 200 challenged ballots, but Mr. Maffei, a first-time incumbent, conceded Tuesday when Ms. Buerkle’s lead exceeded 550 ballots.

Ms. Buerkle, a nurse and lawyer, was challenged immediately about whether the narrow victory means she must appease losing voters in the upstate New York district. “I don’t think anybody would ask me to compromise my principles,” she said in a victory speech highlighted by her promises for less government and lower taxes. “But there is common ground. I look forward to talking to voters who don’t support me.”

Washington Republicans hailed the victory as a transformative moment for the party on historically Democratic turf.

“Congresswoman-elect Buerkle becomes the sixth Republican to defeat a Democrat in New York, the most wins of any state in the nation,” said Bob Honold, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s New York political director.

Mr. Honold also pointed out that the district voted for Democratic presidential nominees Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Mr. Maffei said in concession that he makes no apologies for his positions on economic-stimulus spending, the health care bill and financial reform.

“My only regret is that there were not more opportunities to make health care more affordable to people and businesses and get more resources to the region for needed public projects,” he said.

The two remaining House races are New York’s 1st District and California’s 11th District, where Democrats are expected to win.

The New York race between GOP challenger Randy Altschuler and four-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop remains too close to call. Mr. Bishop now leads by roughly 235 votes, but the outcome reportedly will not be certified until next week when a court addresses roughly 2,000 contested ballots.

In California, Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney has a sizable lead over GOP candidate David Harmer. Mr. McNerney has already declared victory, but the results have not been certified, and Mr. Harmer is considering a recount. The district includes the state’s San Joaquin Valley.

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