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Republicans Win House Majority, Make Senate Gains in Wave Election

 

Riding a wave of voter frustration over the economy and the federal government itself, the Republican Party sailed into the majority in the House of Representatives Tuesday with victories projected to be on a scale not seen since the end of the New Deal. 

Fox News projects that Republicans will see a net gain of about 65 seats in the House. In races from Florida to Virginia to Indiana to Texas, voters were sending a rebuke to the party in power by electing Republicans over Democratic incumbents. Seniority did not seem to matter. Longtime representatives were falling just as hard as freshmen, succumbing to campaigns -- many of them backed by the Tea Party movement -- that tied them to unpopular federal policies and proposals. 

The GOP will not seize power in the Senate, with wins by Democratic Leader Harry Reid and a handful of others relegating Republicans to minority status for at least another two years. But they came close enough that neither party can be steamrolled by the other in the next Congress. 

House Republican Leader John Boehner, now poised to succeed Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, choked up as he addressed a jubilant crowd Tuesday night -- he attributed his party's success to a popular rejection of big government, big spending and big bailouts. 

"It's clear tonight who the winners really are, and that's the American people," Boehner said. "Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the American people." 

Boehner vowed to fulfill his party's "pledge" to cut spending and reduce the size of government, saying he's willing to work with President Obama if he "respects the will of the people" and changes course. Obama called Boehner at midnight to congratulate him. 

The GOP gains would exceed those made during the Republican wave of 1994 when the party picked up 54 House seats. Not since 1938 has the party made such monumental inroads. With 218 seats needed for a majority, Republicans so far have officially won 233, while Democrats have won 174. 

Though unable to reach a majority in the Senate, Republicans have so far picked up six seats from Democrats and are holding down a number of others -- giving little ground as they shoot for a stronger foothold in the upper chamber. In a symbolic victory, GOP Rep. Mark Kirk beat Alexi Giannoulias for Obama's old Senate seat in Illinois after a hard-fought race. Conservative Pat Toomey narrowly defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, taking over for party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter. And three-term Sen. Russ Feingold was the latest incumbent Democrat to go down, losing his race for reelection in Wisconsin to Tea Party-backed businessman Ron Johnson

"What we're sensing tonight is a huge case of buyer's remorse all across America," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told supporters Tuesday night, describing the GOP gains as a rejection of the spending and "Washington takeovers" coming out of the federal government. 

In North Dakota, Republican John Hoeven beat Tracy Potter for the seat held by outgoing Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan. In Arkansas, GOP Rep. John Boozman trounced Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, denying her a third term in Congress. Lincoln's vote for the president's health care overhaul was considered a turning point for the senator's popularity. Former Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana scored the first GOP Senate pick-up of the night, beating Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth for the seat left by retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh

But Democrats held onto a handful of key seats, most importantly Nevada. Reid campaigned hard to retain his seat, with supporters casting Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle as dangerous and unfit to serve. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer was also able to fend off a stiff challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina in California. 

The party scored three victories for open seats. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin beat John Raese despite an aggressive campaign by the Republican to portray Manchin as a buddy to Washington Democrats and particularly Obama. In Delaware, Chris Coons beat Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell; in Connecticut, popular Attorney General Dick Blumenthal beat professional wrestling mogul Linda McMahon. All those open seats were previously held by longtime Democratic lawmakers. The Delaware seat used to be held by Vice President Biden, the Connecticut seat held by longtime lawmaker Chris Dodd and the West Virginia seat held by the late Robert Byrd

Republicans also won open Senate seats in Florida, Utah, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio. Those open seats were already held by Republicans, so the GOP wins there did not affect the balance of power. 

In the dramatic three-way race for an open Senate seat in Florida, Tea Party-backed Republican Marco Rubio beat his two opponents. He was running against Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the GOP to run as an independent, and Democrat Kendrick Meek

In Kansas, Republican Jerry Moran won the seat held by Sam Brownback, a Republican who won his race for governor against Tom Holland. In Utah, Republican Mike Lee took the seat held by Bob Bennett, who was defeated in the GOP primary. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman, an ex-congressman and former White House budget director, beat Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. And in Kentucky, Tea Party-backed Rand Paul beat state Attorney General Jack Conway after a bitter contest that delved into Paul's religion and made for some tense debates. Paul won by a wide margin despite a last-minute visit by former President Bill Clinton for Conway. 

Republican Kelly Ayote will succeed GOP Sen. Judd Gregg in New Hampshire, and Republican Rep. Roy Blunt will succeed GOP Sen. Kit Bond in Missouri. 

Republicans needed just 39 pickups to win the House; they needed 10 in the Senate to take the majority. With a handful of races too close to call, Republicans so far have claimed 46 Senate seats to Democrats' 49. Two independents vote with Democrats.

Among the slew of House victories, Republican Dan Webster defeated outspoken liberal Rep. Alan Grayson in Florida's 8th District, Republican Allen West beat Rep. Ron Klein in Florida's 22nd District and Republican Sandra Adams picked up a Democratic seat in Florida's 24th District. Tea Party-backed Kristi Noem ousted Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota. Republican Bill Flores beat moderate Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas' 17th District. Republican Lou Barletta, a strident foe of illegal immigration, beat longtime incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania's 11th District. Longtime Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, a committee chairman, was also defeated in Missouri. 

So-called purple states like Virginia followed a Republican trend on Tuesday. Republican Robert Hurt took Virginia's 5th District, defeating Rep. Tom Perriello who boldly campaigned with the president; Republican Scott Rigell defeated Virginia Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye in District 2. Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil also lost in Maryland's District 1, while Democratic Rep. Zack Space lost in Ohio's District 18. Republican Larry Bucshon picked up Ellsworth's Democratic seat in Indiana, where Democratic Rep. Baron Hill was also defeated by a wide margin. 

On the other side, Democrat John Carney picked up the Republican House seat in Delaware formerly held by Rep. Mike Castle, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate. GOP Rep. Joseph Cao lost to Democrat Cedric Richmond in Louisiana. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank held his seat against upstart Sean Bielat. 

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With the strength of the Tea Party movement at their backs, GOP candidates were confident the enthusiasm of their supporters would help propel them to historic pickups in Congress and give them the leverage to put a check on the Obama administration's policies. 

Though Democrats barnstormed into Congress in huge numbers over the past two cycles -- helped in no small part by Obama's historic presidential run in 2008 -- frustration over the economy and far-reaching legislation passed under the current administration fueled a crop of candidates vowing to bring a renewed model of small-government conservatism to Washington. 

The most visible and vocal driver of that political breed has been the Tea Party, which aggravated several GOP primary contests by backing non-establishment candidates who, in many cases, won. A handful of those nominees lost on the Senate side Tuesday, opening the movement up to criticism that more tested candidates could have put the party over the edge. But the energy from the Tea Partiers was an undeniable factor in getting Republicans out to the polls. 

Paul heralded his victory in Kentucky Tuesday as a sign of the Tea Party's vigor. 

"We've come to take our government back," he declared in his victory speech. "Tonight there's a Tea Party tidal wave and we're sending a message to them." 

While the Obama administration rejects the description of Election Day as a referendum on the president's policies, Republican candidates said Tuesday night's returns had everything to do with Obama. And Pelosi. And Reid. 

Many of their candidates ran as much against Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress as they did against their own opponents. Across the country, Republican nominees cast their Democratic foes as tools of the Obama administration, while Democrats returned fire by casting Republicans -- particularly those backed by the Tea Party -- as extreme. 

Republican leaders have warned that victories on Tuesday do not necessarily translate to a mandate, and that they'll have to follow through on their promises to cut spending and rein in government to gain the voters' trust. Boehner stressed Tuesday that Republicans need to deliver. 

A number of incumbents in both parties coasted to election, avoiding the upheaval that marked so many races. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy easily won his reelection race, as did South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who faced off against Democrat Alvin Greene, an unemployed unknown who won his party's primary without campaigning. 

Veteran Democratic Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, Democratic Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye and Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer won their reelection races. On the Republican side, victories were sealed by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Arizona Sen. John McCain. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson

Freshman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also won her race to complete the term vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- she will have to run again in 2012. 

Thirty-seven governor's seats were also on the line Tuesday. 

Republicans scored a big pickup in Ohio as John Kasich beat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, an enthusiastic Obama ally whom the president tried to save. Republicans also notched a gain in Tennessee with a victory by Bill Haslam and again in Iowa with a win by Terry Branstad. Republican Tom Corbett seized a Democratic seat in the Pennsylvania governor's race as did Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Republican Gov. Rick Perry won his race for reelection after a tumultuous campaign. And Republican Nikki Haley won the race for governor in South Carolina, weathering allegations of affairs which posed a distraction in the race. 

In California, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will return to his old job after beating former eBay executive Meg Whitman. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will keep his state's governor's seat in Democratic hands, beating Republican Carl Paladino. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper won the Colorado gubernatorial race for the Democrats, beating Republican Dan Maes as well as insurgent third-party candidate Tom Tancredo. Democrat Deval Patrick won another term in Massachusetts, as did Gov. Martin O'Malley in Maryland, where ex-Gov. Robert Ehrlich tried to mount a comeback.