WASHINGTON – House Republicans were headed to a second straight victory Tuesday, ensuring the Republican retains a legislative stronghold to push a conservative agenda of fiscal austerity regardless of who won the presidency.

After Democrats and Republicans spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to define — and defend — the “tea party Congress,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was poised to emerge from Tuesday’s elections with limited losses and possible gains.

By holding on to the House, Boehner ensures that his conservative caucus will be a key player in fiscal negotiations in the months ahead, probably renewing its legislative clash with Senate Democrats, who are favored to maintain control of the upper chamber.

Boehner vowed to continue the conservative track that House Republicans have taken the past two years, arguing that the expected results were a validation of their approach.

“Over the last two years, the Republicans in the House have listened to the American people and followed their will. But we’ve had no cooperation from the Senate and no cooperation from the White House,” Boehner said after casting his ballot in the southwestern Ohio district he’s represented for 22 years.

Strategists in each party, as well as independent analysts, projected a similar result to the 242-193 margin that resulted from the 2010 midterm elections, with Democrats still hopeful to pick up a net gain of a handful of seats.

The expected Democratic defeat left in doubt the political future of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who for months had predicted huge gains for Democrats and a possible recapture of the chamber’s majority. Pelosi allies have signaled that she is likely to remain in her leadership post should Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney win. But they’ve indicated that she may relinquish her leadership role if President Obama is re-elected and Senate Democrats remain in charge.

House Democrats declared “the end of the tea party” in a memo before election returns began coming in Tuesday night. Their strategists pointed to the tough re-election fights for several of the House’s most outspoken conservatives, including Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Joe Walsh, R-Ill., and Allen West, R-Fla. Democrats also noted that many others who rode in on tea party support in 2010 tried to reposition themselves as mainstream Republicans to face this year’s electorate.

“House Republican incumbents — and their candidates — are running as far away from the Tea Party as they can,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared in its memo.

The Republican performance defied early expectations that Republicans’ historic 2010 gains would be followed by steep losses this November — the historic pattern after large wave elections such as the 63-seat gain for Republicans two years ago.

Experts have noted that the Republican strategy after 2010 was to use the decennial process of redistricting to fortify as many of the 87 freshmen as possible for the 2012 races. Boehner’s team worked with Republican-controlled legislatures, which draw district maps, to shore up those freshmen in new districts.

Of the more than 80 Republican freshmen standing for re-election, just a dozen or so were expected to lose.

Both parties were poised to have several historical markers after these elections. On Massachusetts’ North Shore, former state Sen. Richard Tisei was favored to defeat a veteran, scandal-plagued incumbent to become the first openly gay Republican to win. In Utah, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love was in a tossup race with Rep. Jim Matheson in her effort to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. In Hawaii, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard was the favorite to win an open seat and become the first Hindu American in Congress.

Gabbard’s expected victory is part of the continuing diversification of House Democrats that most believe will leave their caucus of close to 200 members with a majority of women and minorities. If that occurs, it will be the first time in history that a House or Senate party caucus does not have a white male majority.

Newly elected members will arrive in Washington next week for orientation sessions, just as Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will renew their two-year battle over fiscal policy that included several bouts of brinkmanship that nearly shut down the federal government and almost led to the first default on the federal debt.