(NBC) Updated at 3 a.m. ET: Two years after reclaiming control of Congress' lower chamber, Republicans emerged from Tuesday's elections pretty much where they started -- with a hefty majority in the U.S. House.
Entering Tuesday's elections, Republicans held a 240-190 advantage (five House seats were vacant -- two formerly GOP-held and three Democratic seats). With the polls closed in all states, by early Wednesday Republicans had won at least 224 House seats -- more than the 218 needed for a majority. NBC News was projecting that Republicans would wind up with 238 seats and Democrats 197 seats, with a margin of error of plus or minus four.
The House's Republican leaders saw the results as support from the electorate for their strong stance against increasing taxes, even for the wealthiest Americans.
"The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority," declared House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who ran unopposed in his re-election bid. "With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there's no mandate for raising tax rates. What Americans want are solutions that will ease the burdens on small businesses, bring jobs home and let our economy grow."
"Just as in 2010, our House Republican candidates listened to the American people and rejected the Democrats' tax-and-spend agenda that threatens the American Dream," added Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
View House election results
In Wisconsin, Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, won re-election to his seat, as did Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in California.
President Barack Obama won re-election and Democrats were projected to retain control of the Senate, meaning that the president would have to confront a still-divided Congress in his second term.
Among the House races that were being closely watched either because they were in bellwether districts or because the candidates had instant name recognition:
6th District: Former GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann was in a nip-and-tuck race for re-election against Democratic hotel businessman Jim Graves. Bachmann heavily outspent her opponent, and in her fundraising emails she has called the campaign the toughest of her life. The results backed that up. With 86 percent of the vote in, Bachmann was clinging to a lead of fewer than 1,700 votes. See results
18th District: Freshman Republican Rep. Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel and prominent face of the tea party, found himself in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Patrick Murphy, a 29-year-old construction executive and political neophyte. West, who garnered headlines for insisting Obama is a Muslim and charging that scores of congressional Democrats are communists, and Murphy each had 50 percent with 99 percent of the votes counted. The contest was believed to be one of the most expensive House races in history: The two sides had raised nearly $21 million as of Oct. 17, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, and super PACs supporting the candidates poured in millions more. See results
Democrats projected to maintain control of Senate
12th District: In a high-spending race that helped solidify the GOP's control in the House, Republican Keith Rothfus, an attorney and a political newcomer, upset incumbent Democratic Rep. Mark Critz, by a 52-48 margin. Critz called Rothfus and conceded shortly before 11:30 p.m. Critz won this western Pennsylvania seat in a May 2010 special election after the death of longtime Democratic Congressman John Murtha, for whom Critz worked. The campaign has been flooded with $9.9 million in spending by outside groups, more than any other House race in the nation, according to The Associated Press. See results
Complete politics coverage from NBC News
4th District: Five-term incumbent and outspoken conservative Republican stalwart Rep. Steve King defeated Democrat Christie Vilsack, wife of former Iowa governor and current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. King had never faced a serious challenge in the heavily Republican area, but the post-Census addition of Ames made the district less conservative. With 98 percent of the votes counted, King held a 53-45 advantage. See results
36th District: GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack sought to stave off a challenge from emergency room physician Raul Ruiz in the newly redistricted 36th. Bono Mack has held the seat since 1998, when she won a special election to replace her late husband, Sonny Bono, half of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. Sonny Bono was killed in a skiing accident earlier that year in South Lake Tahoe. After redistricting, registered Democrats now outnumber Republican voters in the 36th -- making this the first time Bono Mack was seeking re-election in a blue district. With 34 percent of the votes counted, Mack and Ruiz were in a statistical dead heat, each with 50 percent of the vote. Bono Mack's husband, Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., lost his Senate race in Florida to favored Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. See results
Joy and sorrow: Web reacts to President Obama's re-election
Also in the running
In one of the day's more unusual House races, Republican Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator, handily beat Democrat Syed Taj, a physician, in Michigan's 11th District, according to NBC News projections. The race became wide open after Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a five-term Republican, resigned in July after failing to produce enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Not faring as well was VoteForEddie.com, a 32-year-old college Florida student who legally changed his name. VoteForEddie.com, running as an Independent, finished a distant third in Florida's 25th District, garnering about 8 percent of the vote.
Behind the numbers
Republicans, running on a promise to shrink government and roll back unpopular federal policies and proposals, took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, winning a whopping 63 seats in the midterm elections. Republicans said the landslide victory was a referendum on Obama's and the then-incumbent party's performance.
The 2012 elections were the first using new redistricting maps drawn up after the 2010 Census. Every 10 years, states redraw their congressional-seat boundaries, and redistricting favored Republicans in many areas this time around. Some moderate Democrats decided to retire rather than seek re-election in Republican-leaning districts.
"Democrats couldn't have picked a worse year to suffer horrific losses up and down the ballot than 2010," wrote David Wasserman in the Cook Political Report. "In effect, the GOP won the right to draw much of the political map for the next 10 years."