Harry Reid calls the night one of the toughest fights of his life and some races were down to the wire
(Bloomberg) — Republicans seized control of the U.S. House and narrowed the Senate's Democratic majority in elections shaped by voter anxiety over jobs and the economy. Republicans had a net gain of at least 60 House seats yesterday across the country, the party's biggest increase in power in the chamber since 1938. Republicans capitalized on concerns about government spending, delivering a rebuke to the domestic agenda of President Barack Obama.
Republicans scored a net gain of at least six seats in the Senate, winning Democratic-held slots in Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Wisconsin. They won't get the 10-seat gain needed to win a majority, as only two races are yet to be decided, in Alaska and Washington. "We're witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people," Republican John Boehner of Ohio, in line to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House speaker, told supporters in Washington late last night.
Republicans needed a net gain of 39 seats to control the House next year. With 11 races still to be decided, the Republican pickups exceeded their 54-seat gain in 1994, when the party won control of the House for the first time since 1954. "Our new majority will be prepared to do things differently," said Boehner, his voice choked with emotion.
Obama called Boehner at about midnight to offer congratulations. On the campaign trail, Obama and Boehner accused each other of failing to live up to promises of bipartisanship made after the 2008 elections. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada held onto his seat, defeating Republican Sharron Angle, a favorite of Tea Party activists. Republicans made a major effort to unseat Reid, a one-time amateur boxer seeking his fifth term.
"I've been in some pretty tough fights in my day — they've been in the street, they've been in a boxing ring, they've been in the United States Senate," Reid told supporters. "I have to admit, this has been one of the toughest." Leaders from both parties pledged to work together. "I am very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together," Obama told reporters at the White House today.
Close Senate Races
Democratic Senator Michael Bennet will win a close race in Colorado, the Denver Post reported. With 89 percent of precincts counted, Bennet led county prosecutor Ken Buck by about 15,000 votes out of more than 1.6 million ballots. Fellow Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington was locked in a contest that was too close to call. She led businessman Dino Rossi by about 14,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million ballots cast, with 62 percent of precincts reporting. In at least one Senate race, final results may not be known for days.
A three-way race sparked by the write-in campaign of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska could delay results in that state for weeks. Counting the write-in ballots, if necessary, won't begin until Nov. 18, according to Gail Fenumiai, Alaska Division of Elections director. Murkowski mounted her write-in campaign after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller, who was backed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The Democratic candidate is Scott McAdams. The category of write-in led, with 41 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Miller and 24 percent for McAdams, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
Democratic House losses claimed fiscally conservative lawmakers from rural districts, freshmen elected in 2008 on a wave of support for Obama, and longtime lawmakers. The latter included Representative John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee, Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, head of the Armed Services Committee, and James Oberstar of Minnesota, who leads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Lawmakers return to Washington later this month for a lame- duck session before the new Congress begins in January. Tops on the agenda for the rest of this year will be passing spending bills to fund the government and debating the extension of tax cuts passed under Republican President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.
Voter frustration with a national unemployment rate at or above 9.5 percent for the last 14 months and disagreement with the White House's domestic policies, including the new health- care law, helped spark an anti-Washington Tea Party movement that helped shape the year's campaign. The Democrats had captured House and Senate control in the 2006 midterm elections, when Bush was still in the White House.
This year's election is the costliest non-presidential contest in U.S. history, with spending expected to reach $4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Outside groups, such as Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent $167 million on behalf of Republican candidates from Sept. 1 to Oct. 29. Democratic groups spent $68 million. Many of the groups didn't have to disclose their donors.
In addition to Spratt, Skelton and Oberstar, veteran Democratic House members wiped out in the Republican wave included Chet Edwards of Texas, chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, Pennsylvania's Paul Kanjorski, a 13-term lawmaker who is the third-ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, and Mississippi's Gene Taylor, who first won his seat in a 1989 special election.
Democrats lost three House races in Virginia, a state that Obama won in 2008 in the first Democratic presidential victory there since 1964. Republican Morgan Griffith ousted 14-term Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher. Republican challenger Scott Rigell defeated Democratic freshman Glenn Nye in the state, and Republican Robert Hurt beat Democratic incumbent Tom Perriello, the Associated Press projected. Obama campaigned for Perriello on Oct. 29. Nye and Perriello were part of the class of Democratic House members in competitive districts elected with Obama two years ago. That group also included freshman Democrat Suzanne Kosmas in Florida, who lost her re-election bid to state Representative Sandy Adams.
Blue Dogs Hurt
The self-described fiscally conservative Blue Dog House Democrats took a big hit, with defeats of Indiana's Baron Hill, Florida's Allen Boyd and North Dakota's Earl Pomeroy, among other lawmakers. Democrats lost five House seats in Ohio, a crucial swing state that has voted for the winner in the last 12 U.S. presidential elections. Obama made his 12th trip to the state on Oct. 31 to stump for Democrats.
Freshman Representatives Mary Jo Kilroy, John Boccieri and Steve Driehaus all lost to Republican challengers. Two-term incumbents Charlie Wilson and Zack Space were also defeated. In Ohio's Senate race, Republican Rob Portman was the winner over Democratic Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher for the seat vacated by Republican George Voinovich, who is retiring. Portman was the top international trade official under Bush and also served as head of his budget office.
New York Races
Republicans also picked up five House seats in New York, with the outcome in one Democratic-held district yet to be determined. The Democratic losers included freshman Michael McMahon in a Staten Island-based district and John Hall, a one- time singer-songwriter for the group Orleans who had been elected to a Hudson Valley-based district in 2006. McMahon lost to Mike Grimm. Hall was defeated by Nan Hayworth. Democratic Senate winners included Joe Manchin in West Virginia, the state's governor, who takes the seat that Democrat Robert Byrd held until his death in June. Manchin's victory in an early reporting state dealt a blow to Republican hopes of gaining a Senate majority.
In Delaware, Democrat Chris Coons beat Tea Party-backed Republican Christine O'Donnell, enabling Democrats to keep the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. In California, Senator Barbara Boxer fended off a challenge from Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co.
"The Senate was going to be a tough haul for us," Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, said on MSNBC last night. In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats, a Republican, beat Democrat Brad Ellsworth. Coats will replace Democrat Evan Bayh, who is retiring. In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln was ousted by Republican Representative John Boozman. Lincoln was one of the leading voices in Congress for tougher regulation of Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis. Republicans also claimed Obama's old seat in Illinois, where U.S. Representative Mark Kirk won.
Republican challenger Ron Johnson won election to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin, defeating Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. And in Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey defeated Democratic Representative Joe Sestak. Tea Party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida gave Republicans Senate victories as polls started closing in the U.S. Both open seats were held by Republicans who didn't seek re-election.
"We've come to take our government back," Paul, an ophthalmologist who hasn't held public office, said in his victory speech. "Tonight there's a Tea Party tidal wave, and we're sending a message." The influence of the Tea Party, which favors cutting government spending and lowering taxes, has pushed the Republican Party to adopt more fiscally conservative positions.
Rubio said his victory provides "a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be." The divided Congress will lead to two years of gridlock on the major issues in Washington, said David King, a public policy lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "There's no strong incentive for cooperation," he said.
"The Republicans are going to concern themselves with what the ticket will look like in 2012." Republican control of the House opens the door to investigations of the Obama administration by new committee chairmen armed with subpoena power and the ability to influence policy on everything from the implementation of the new health- care law and the overhaul of the financial-regulatory system.
The Republican showing helps companies from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to health insurer WellPoint Inc. gain support in efforts to undermine what they consider Obama's anti-business policies on taxes, health care and financial regulation. Exporters such as Caterpillar Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc. say a Republican-controlled House would be more likely to work with Obama to approve pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Pelosi will be forced to consider stepping aside as the party's House leader rather then head the Democratic minority caucus in the new congressional session, according to two House Democratic leadership aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
—With assistance from Kristin Jensen, Alison Fitzgerald, James Rowley, Jonathan Salant, Kate Andersen Brower, Jeff Bliss, Laura Litvan, Traci McMillan, Nick Johnston, William McQuillen, Brian Faler and Heidi Przybyla in Washington.