NEW YORK – In a stunning midterm victory for President Bush, the Republican Party won control of both houses of Congress early Wednesday morning.
But there is a smattering of legal challenges that may ensue throughout the country after the Election Day results are completely tallied.
The Grand Old Party first recaptured the Senate when Republican challenger Jim Talent defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in Missouri.
"Our cause is not lessened by defeat or heartache of loss," Carnahan said in her concession speech at 2 a.m. EST. "The fire will not go out."
Then, in South Dakota Wednesday, incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is claiming a win against Republican challenger, Rep. John Thune, who was hand-picked by Bush to run in that Senate race. Johnson said shortly before noon Wednesday that Thune had not yet received a concession call from his opponent. Johnson also would not speculate as to whether he thought legal battles may ensue. A recount is likely, since there was only about a 500-vote difference.
And in Minnesota Wednesday, Democratic candidate Walter Mondale conceded to Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
"The polls kept going back and forth but the crowd kept growing," Coleman told supporters Wednesday afternoon.
The Louisiana Senate race is still pending. Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu was ahead in the polls, but she didn't win the 50 percent of the vote she needed to avoid a Dec. 7 run-off, as mandated by law in the Bayou State.
The scorecard for the Senate is now 51 seats for Republicans, 47 for Democrats, 1 independent and one undecided. The GOP gained 2 seats.
Democrats claimed Senate seats in New Jersey, New Mexico, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Michigan, Montana, Arkansas, South Dakota and Illinois.
The Republicans won Senate elections in Colorado, Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, Texas, Minnesota and Oregon.
It was a night of jubilation in the White House as the Republicans also gained seats in the House of Representatives — a rarity for a president in midterm elections. Traditionally, the party that controls the White House loses House seats in midterm elections.
Republicans ended up with 227 seats in the House — they needed 218 to hang on to a majority. They went into Tuesday's election with 223 seats. Democrats ended up with 203 seats. There are two independents who tend to lean in opposite directions. But some races are still being counted.
"President Bush and the Republican Party have made history," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said just before the Missouri Senate results were announced.
Bush became the third president in the last century — and the first Republican — to help his party expand its ranks in midterm elections.
"For the first time in the history of the country, the Republican Party appears to be on the verge of actually gaining seats in the House" in a midterm election, Fleischer said. And, he said, it is "increasingly clear the president played a role in breaking that historical trend."
Bush spent the last three weeks leading up to Election Day barnstorming states to stump for Republican candidates.
With the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, Bush can expect to see key pieces of legislation, such as the homeland security bill, passed.
After failing to seize Republican seats in several key states late Tuesday night, the Democrats entered the early hours of Wednesday morning needing to sweep four races — Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota and Louisiana — to keep their hold on the Senate.
Democrats eyed Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and New Hampshire as other potential victories. They lost those, but won key Senate races in Arkansas and New Jersey.
Colorado voters sent incumbent Republican Sen. Wayne Allard back to office, defeating Democratic challenger Tom Strickland.
Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat, temporarily tilting the scales to the GOP earlier in the night. But soon after, Arkansas Sen. Tim Hutchinson, a Republican, lost his Senate seat to Democratic Attorney General Mark Pryor in a race that had been leaning Republican into Election Day.
In North Carolina, former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, beat former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat. The Republicans retained the Senate seat, with Dole replacing retiring Sen. Jesse Helms.
In New Hampshire, John Sununu kept another Republican seat in the Senate, beating Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu will replace Sen. Bob Smith, whom he defeated in the primary.
Democrats kept their seat in New Jersey, where former Sen. Frank Lautenberg defeated Republican challenger Doug Forrester. Lautenberg entered the race several weeks ago when the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli, bowed out in the face of strong opposition from the voters.
In much of the country, it was a banner night for incumbents.
"It looks to me that incumbents are running very well at every level," said Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard .
Thirty-six state governorships were also up for grabs and there has been one big upset so far — in Georgia, where incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, was defeated by former GOP state Sen. Sonny Perdue. The GOP ended up with 25 gubernatorial seats, leaving Democrats with 23.
But in Alabama, both gubernatorial candidates claimed victory Wednesday morning. Both men had 49 percent of the total. A recount is likely.
The governor's race isn't over in Vermont, either. No one won a majority, so the election gets tossed into the state legislature, each chamber of which is controlled by a different party.
But in Florida, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush was re-elected over Democratic challenger Bill McBride despite an all-out effort by Democrats — including former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore — to defeat President Bush's brother. The president called his brother to congratulate him, saying it was a "huge victory."
Bush's parents, former President George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush — whom the governor called "my inspiration in life"— joined their son for a late-night victory rally.
In another closely watched and combative governor's race, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, lost to Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich.
Voters also chose state legislatures, which, prior to Election Day, were split almost evenly between the Democrats and Republicans, and deciding more than 200 ballot initiatives in 40 states.
Republicans had a surprisingly strong showing in state legislative elections, taking control of at least five states houses from Democrats, tying two others and possibly having more Republican legislators than Democrats for the first time since the 1950s.
In 46 states, the fate of 6,214 of the country's 7,382 state legislative seats were up for grabs. Prior to Tuesday, Democrats controlled 52 percent of the nation's total statehouse seats - a 280-seat advantage over Republicans.
Preliminary results compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures indicate the GOP became the first party of presidential power to gain state legislative seats in a mid-term election since records first started to be kept. Historically, the president's party has lost an average of more than 350 seats in every midterm election cycle since at least 1938.
"Just when you thought the number couldn't get any closer, they did," said NCSL election expert Tim Storey. "Republicans could end up with a majority of all seats for the first time since 1954."
Republicans next year will assume control of: the Texas House for the first time since 1870; the Arizona Senate which was previously tied; the Colorado Senate, which Democrats won in 2000 for the first time since 1962; the Missouri House, for the first time since 1955; and the Wisconsin Senate.
Republicans will control two key Southern states for the first time since Reconstruction — Texas and South Carolina.
Democrats took over the Illinois Senate and won the governor's office, giving the party there control of the state government for the first time since 1977. Democrats also held on to the North Carolina Senate and Oklahoma House, potential GOP takeover targets.
As of Wednesday morning, according to NCSL: Republicans control 21 legislatures, up from 17; Democrats control 17 legislatures, down from 18; eight states have split party control, down from 14; and three states were too close to call or undecided.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, voters rejected a ballot measure legalizing possession of 3 ounces or less or marijuana. They also passed a ballot measure amending the state constitution to say marriage is between a man and a woman, essentially banning same-sex marriages.
In Arizona, voters defeated Proposition 203, which would have required the Arizona Department of Public Safety to distribute marijuana for medicinal uses if the patient has a doctor's note.
In California, voters rejected ballot initiatives that would allow Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley to secede from Los Angeles. California voters also approved a proposition sponsored by Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, which provides millions of dollars for before- and after-school programs.