NEW YORK – In a stunning midterm victory for President Bush, the Republican Party won control of both houses of Congress early Wednesday morning.
The Grand Old Party recaptured the Senate when Republican challenger Jim Talent defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in Missouri.
With three big Senate races still undetermined, the Republicans already had seized the 50 seats they needed to control the chamber. The Democrats had 46, and there is one Independent.
"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."
Talent took the stage 15 minutes later and said, "Believe it or not, I’m almost speechless."
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.
In the White House, meanwhile, it was a night of jubilation as the Republicans also gained a few seats in the House of Representatives -- a rarity for a president in midterm elections.
What still remained to be seen was exactly how many seats the GOP would gain in the House. Traditionally, the party that controls the White House loses House seats in midterm elections.
Just before the Missouri Senate results were announced, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "President Bush and the Republican Party have made history."
"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."
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.
Republicans went into the elections holding 223 House seats, 13 more than the Democrats. There are two independents who tend to lean in opposite directions. Democrats needed to win the competitive races to have a chance at ending Republicans' control of the House.
As of 3 a.m. Wednesday, with eight races remaining to be determined, the Republicans had won 223 seats, Democrats had 202 and two others were independent.
With the projected GOP gain in the House, Bush becomes the third president in the last century -- and the first Republican -- to help his party expand its ranks in midterm elections.
Prior to the Republican victory in Missouri, Colorado voters sent incumbent Republican Sen. Wayne Allard back to office, defeating challenger Tom Strickland in a race that Democrats hoped would turn their way.
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.
The GOP had hopes of lengthening their lead in the Senate, with critical races remaining to be decided in South Dakota, Minnesota and Louisiana, where all three states have Democratic incumbents.
• In Minnesota, polls showed former Sen. Walter Mondale, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, running very close. Absentee ballots could be a problem; people who winter in Southern states didn’t receive new absentee ballots until late in the game, after the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone’s name was removed. Legal challenges were likely to occur. Fox News reported that if Coleman loses, he may be chosen by President Bush for an appointment.
Shortly after midnight, Coleman told supporters to hang tight, saying although his race with Mondale was close, "it feels good."
Shortly before 1 a.m., Mondale told supporters, "It's going to be a long night."
At 3 a.m. EST, Coleman was leading Mondale by a few percentage points.
• In South Dakota, the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and GOP Rep. John Thune remained too close to call. Thune was asked to run by Bush in what was seen by many as a personal contest between Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Bush. Election officials expected a 75 percent voter turnout and thought they'd be counting votes into early Wednesday morning after several election fraud legal snafus surrounding Indian reservations. As of 3 a.m. Tuesday, with 90.8 percent precincts reporting, Thune held a narrow lead.
• In Louisiana, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was ahead in the polls, but she was not expected to win the 50 percent of the vote she needed to avoid a run-off in December, as mandated by law in the Bayou State.
"You could end up with a remarkable Republican gain in the U.S. Senate by sometime tomorrow morning or on Dec. 7, when we finally have the vote in Louisiana," said Fox News political analyst and former Republican House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich.
In North Carolina, former Red Cross President and two-time Cabinet member 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.
In New Jersey, former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Doug Forrester. Lautenberg entered the race several weeks ago when the incumbent, Sen. Robert Torricelli, bowed out in the face of strong opposition from the voters.
Democrats claimed Senate seats in New Jersey, New Mexico, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Michigan, Montana, Arkansas 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 and Oregon.
In the House, Kentucky Republican incumbent Anne Northup won a fourth House term against Democratic candidate Jack Conway. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, also a Republican, won her House race. In Maryland, the popular Republican incumbent Connie Morella was defeated in her run for a ninth term by Democratic challenger and state lawmaker Chris Van Hollen.
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.
There are still three outstanding governor’s races that are too close to call in California, Alabama and Hawaii. And in Vermont, it doesn’t look as if either gubernatorial candidate will garner the 50 percent of the vote needed to win. If no candidate gets that many votes, the race gets thrown to the legislature.
Republicans won in Georgia, Florida, New York, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, Ohio, South Dakota, Arkansas and Texas.
Democrats claimed Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Tennessee, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas, South Carolina, Arizona, Wyoming, Alabama and California.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, was re-elected over Democratic challenger Bill McBride despite an all-out effort by Democrats -- including former President Bill Clinton and 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 Jeb called "my inspiration in life"-- joined their son for a late-night victory rally.
Bush congratulated rival McBride for running a strong campaign and said, "I look forward to working with him to build a better Florida."
In another closely watched governor’s race, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, lost to Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich.
Voters were also choosing state legislatures, now split almost evenly between the Democrats and Republicans, and deciding more than 200 ballot initiatives in 40 states.
National Public Radio correspondent Juan Williams said Democrats are likely to get scolded by the national party and Democratic leaders like Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe for not taking a harder line against Bush’s policies on issues such as the economy and war this campaign season.
"I think there is going to be hell to pay within party counsels," Williams said.
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, early ballot results show voters there rejecting ballot initiatives that would allow Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley to secede from Los Angeles County. California voters also approved a proposition sponsored by Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, which provides millions of dollars for before- and after-school programs.