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Republicans Capture House in Historic Wave, Claim 'Mandate' to Shrink Government

 

Republicans thundered into the majority in the House of Representatives Tuesday night, making historic gains by a proportion not seen in more than 70 years. 

The party so far has won more than 60 seats, with about 65 net gains projected by the time all ballots are counted -- far more than the party needed to seize the majority. Democrats, with the help of a victory by Majority Leader Harry Reid, held the Senate by a narrow margin but suffered several big losses in an election that just about put Republicans on equal footing with the president's party. 

House Republican Leader John Boehner, speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday morning alongside his deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., claimed a "mandate" to cut the size of government and urged President Obama to respect the will of the voters and "change course." 

He said the American people want a climate that will promote job growth as well as a more accountable, smaller federal government. He also said his party needs to "lay the groundwork" for repealing the "monstrosity" health care law, with the eventual goal of replacing it -- an unlikely prospect as long as Obama is in the White House

"It's pretty clear that the Obama-Pelosi agenda's being rejected by the American people," Boehner said. "I think it's a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government." 

Obama said at a press conference Wednesday that he wants to reach "consensus" with Republicans, calling for both parties to reach "common ground." He chalked up his party's losses to frustration over the economy. 

In House races from Florida to Virginia to Indiana to Texas Tuesday night, 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 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 239, while Democrats have won 185. 

Though unable to reach a majority in the Senate, Republicans have so far picked up six seats from Democrats and held 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. 

The Senate races in Washington, Alaska and Colorado are still 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 Rep. Brad 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. 

Republican Rand Paul heralded his victory in the Kentucky Senate race 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." 

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, with Republicans taking the majority of them. 

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. 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.