Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and Democrats managed to retain their majority in the Senate following months of voter discontent over the economy and government policy.
Based on the results of key races, Republicans were almost certain to capture the House, and several TV networks projected the party would win control. Republicans picked up several Senate seats, but Democrats held on in enough states to retain control of the upper chamber following victories in California, West Virginia and Connecticut.
Republicans picked up Senate seats in Indiana and Wisconsin, defeating Sen. Russ Feingold, and kept seats in New Hampshire and Missouri in GOP hands. Republican tea-party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida both won as well, following victories over establishment candidates in their Republican primaries.
In Delaware, though, tea party-backed Christine O’Donnell lost to Democrat Chris Coons, and her loss is likely to prompt second-guessing among Republicans about whether a different candidate could have won the seat.
Democrat Richard Blumenthal won the Senate race in Connecticut, beating back a challenge from Republican Linda McMahon, a former World Wrestling Entertainment company executive. And in West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin won his Senate race.
In New York, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand defeated Republican Joe DioGuardi, while Democrat Andrew Cuomo coasted past tea-party Republican Carl Paladino for governor.
California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer fended off a challenge by former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and in Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey triumphed over Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, in closely watched contests.
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In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid beat back a stiff challenge from tea-party backed candidate, Republican Sharron Angle.
In House contests, Republican challenger Robert Hurt of Virginia ousted Democratic incumbent Tom Perriello, a particular favorite of President Barrack Obama. Rich Boucher (D., Va.) lost to Republican challenger Morgan Griffith. And Republican Larry Bucshon won southwestern Indiana’s 8th district, giving the GOP a U.S. House seat that Democrats have held the last four years.
Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio), who is now expected to become Speaker of the House, said Republicans will focus on cutting spending and shrinking government. “We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making the changes they are demanding,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery later this evening. “To the extent he is willing to do this, we are ready to work with him.”
Mr. Obama closed out his campaigning by phoning into radio shows that reach African-American and young voters. Mr. Obama also scheduled a news conference for Wednesday, during which he’s expected to signal where his administration heads postelection.
“It is time to get out the vote,” he told talk-radio host Michael Baisden. “My name may not be on the ballot, but the future of the country in terms of us being able to move forward, create jobs, grow the economy, make sure young people get a good education, all that is going to be dependent on me having some folks in Congress who are ready and willing to cooperate.”
In the House, Republicans needed a net gain of 39 seats to regain control of the chamber. That number once seemed insurmountable. But with nearly 100 seats considered in play, Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan congressional analyst, predicted the Republicans will gain 55 to 65 seats, with 70 or more possible—totals that would dwarf the 54 seats the GOP gained in its banner 1994 midterm victory.
Already, Democrats are pointing fingers over whom to blame for the drubbing. Some are calling for major changes in the circle of political advisers Mr. Obama keeps in the White House.
But a senior White House official says the recriminations were misplaced, and only two facts are germane to what’s happened: first, a grueling economic slowdown nationally that produced extensive unemployment; and, second, a wide range of swing seats that Democrats won in the last election and were vulnerable to loss with the changing tide.
The same independent voters—a large and growing slice of the American electorate—who propelled Mr. Obama to victory in 2008, swung dramatically to the GOP. At the same time, loyal Democratic voters said they were dispirited with the administration and Congress and were thus less likely to go to the polls at all.
The election was likely to end Nancy Pelosi’s four-year tenure as the first female Speaker of the House. She was lauded by Democrats for her political skill in moving energy and health-care bills through the House. But that success turned into a liability when the campaign got under way. The public had mixed feelings about the Democrat’s legislative achievements, and many Democrats decided to distance themselves from Ms. Pelosi during their campaigns.
Veteran Democratic lawmakers were suddenly facing tough contests. Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas was defeated, so too was veteran Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee.
Many of the Democratic losses were expected. Democratic Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana lost to Republican Todd Young in a district that has flipped between the parties repeatedly in recent years. In Florida, Democratic incumbent Suzanne Kosmas lost to Sandra Adams.
Democrats got one early piece of good news when Democrat John Carney beat Glen Urquehart in Delaware to take the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Michael Castle. It was one of just a handful of GOP seats Democrats hoped to flip.
In South Carolina, Republican Tim Scott, an African-American, won an open seat as expected. Currently there are no black Republicans in the House or Senate. The state also elected its first woman governor as State Rep. Nikki Haley, a tea-party favorite, beat state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the AP reported.
In Senate contests, Republicans seemed sure to pick up a Democratic seat in North Dakota and, as expected, won seats in Arkansas, where Blanche Lincoln lost to John Boozman, and Indiana, where former Sen. Dan Coats defeated Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, once seen as a rising Democratic star.
In Florida and Kentucky, Republican victories kept Senate seats in GOP hands, and represented big wins for the tea-party movement. Mr. Paul, who beat state attorney general Jack Conway to win a Kentucky Senate race, became an icon of the grass-roots movement after upsetting the GOP establishment pick in the primary.
Mr. Rubio won a big victory in a three-candidate field in Florida, beating Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist—the Republican-turned-independent. Mr. Rubio’s early strength drove Mr. Crist out of the Republican primary altogether and was an early watershed in the conservative challenge to the Republican Party establishment.
In Ohio, voters backed a Republican cut from more conventional political cloth. Republican Rob Portman, a former House member and trade adviser to President George W. Bush, beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, whose campaign never gained much traction. Republicans also won the open Senate seat in New Hampshire. Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte beat Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes.
Republicans scored victories in several gubernatorial races, including Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland lost a closely fought race for re-election. The GOP also won governor’s seats in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all now held by Democrats. In Florida, Democrat Alex Sink was trailing in her race against health-care executive Rick Scott.
Democrats retook the governor’s mansion in California, with former Gov. Jerry Brown defeating former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who has spent more than $142 million of her own money on the campaign, the most expensive self-funded campaign in history.
In all, 37 states were electing governors. Those contests held an extra importance this year, as governors will play a major role next year in the redrawing of congressional districts, an opportunity that occurs once a decade after the U.S. Census provides new population totals for each state. How districts are drawn can affect each party’s prospects in congressional elections before candidates are even selected.
Voters in 37 states were also deciding 160 ballot measures. That includes an effort in California to legalize recreational marijuana use, which polls show is not likely to pass.
Overall, the election will also go down as the costliest midterm contest in U.S. history, with estimates suggesting that nearly $4 billion will have been spent by candidates, political parties and their outside supporters.
If government in Washington is divided as expected, some Democrats have openly speculated that a Republican-controlled House would be a boon to Mr. Obama, who could use the GOP as a foil in his own re-election campaign.
Republicans will have regained significant power but will face challenges of their own, as establishment Republicans figure out how to manage the spirit and demands of newly elected tea-party-affiliated members.
Republicans have promised to cut federal spending, return unspent money from last year’s stimulus act to the Treasury and repeal Mr. Obama’s health-care law. Before those legislative battles begin, a lame-duck Congress must return to Washington this month to pass bills to fund the government and deal with expiring tax cuts, including all of the income, estate, capital gains and dividend tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Obama will press some of his own initiatives before a more Republican Congress convenes next year, hoping to ratify an arms-control treaty with Russia, allow gays to openly serve in the military and promote First Lady Michelle Obama’s child-nutrition initiative.
White House officials say they hope they can work with Republicans next year to enact some of the deficit-reduction proposals that will be put forward Dec. 1 by the president’s bipartisan federal debt commission. They also see room for compromise over the fate of Mr. Bush’s expiring No Child Left Behind education program—which is unpopular with many in both parties—and a major transportation and infrastructure law that must be reauthorized.
But the two parties will almost inevitably clash as the president digs in to defend his legislative achievements, including the sweeping health-care law, which aims to cover the uninsured and control costs, and a major overhaul of financial-industry regulations.
Many Republicans who are likely to be elected Tuesday will feel that their mandate is to undo that legislation. Tea-party members have been outspoken opponents of government spending and regulation.
Almost immediately, attention will turn to the 2012 presidential race, as Republicans from different wings of the party compete to challenge Mr. Obama.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has already put in place a campaign apparatus just waiting for the starter switch to be thrown. Other challengers for the Republican nomination have been making the rounds in New Hampshire and Iowa, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, said last week she would run if “there’s nobody else to do it.” WSJ