GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Republican state Sen. Vernon Ehlers was overwhelmingly elected Tuesday to the congressional seat that had been held by the late Paul Henry.

With 78 percent of the vote counted, Ehlers had 46,368 votes, or 67 percent, to 15,828 votes, or 23 percent, for Democrat Dale Sprik. Independent Dawn Krupp had 7,002 votes, or 10 percent.

Ehlers, 59, a former Calvin College physics professor, had been the odds-on favorite in the GOP stronghold after beating seven candidates in the Republican primary Nov. 2. Sprik, 55, and Krupp, 51, both are lawyers.

Ehlers, known for his hard work and studious approach to issues, has represented Grand Rapids in the state Legislature since 1983.

''In that district and given the fact that Vern Ehlers is a popular incumbent with no baggage, it's almost inconceivable that any Democrat would have a chance against him,'' said political analyst William Ballenger.

The 3rd district seat was once held by former President Ford. The popular Henry, who died of brain cancer in July, was elected to five terms.

Ehlers won't be sworn in until Congress reconvenes in January. He will serve the one year remaining in Henry's term before facing re-election.

All three candidates focused on deficit reduction, calling for deep cuts in federal spending. All said they would like to see some revisions in President Clinton's health care plan.

Ehlers and Sprik also campaigned on an anti-abortion platform, saying they would make exceptions only when the life of the mother was endangered. Krupp is an abortion rights proponent.