Republicans captured control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and expanded their voice in the Senate, riding a powerful wave of voter discontent as they dealt a setback to President Barack Obama two years after his triumphal victory.
A Republican resurgence, propelled by deep economic worries and a forceful opposition to the Democratic agenda of health care and government spending, delivered commanding defeats to Democrats from the Northeast to the South and across the Midwest. The tide swept aside dozens of Democratic lawmakers regardless of their seniority or their voting records, upending the balance of power for the second half of Obama's term.
But Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, narrowly prevailed and his party hung onto control by winning hard-fought contests in California, Delaware, Connecticut and West Virginia. Republicans picked up at least six Democratic seats, including the one formerly held by Obama, and the party will welcome Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky to their ranks, two candidates who were initially shunned by the establishment but beloved by the Tea Party movement.
"The American people's voice was heard at the ballot box," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who is positioned to become the next speaker of the House. "We have real work to do and this is not the time for celebration."
The president, who watched the election returns with a small set of advisers at the White House, called Boehner shortly after midnight to offer his congratulations and to talk about the way forward as Washington prepares for divided government. Republicans won at least 56 seats, not including Western states where ballots were still being counted, which surpassed the 52 seats the party won in the sweep of 1994.
The most expensive midterm election campaign in the nation's history, fueled by a raft of contributions from outside interest groups and millions of donations to candidates in both parties, played out across a wide battleground that stretched from Alaska to Maine. The Republican tide swept into statehouse races, too, with Democrats poised to lose the majority of governorships, particularly those in key presidential swing states, like Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland was defeated.
One after another, once unassailable Democrats like Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Reps. Chet Edwards of Texas, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and Rick Boucher of Virginia fell to little-known Republican challengers.
Yet Republicans did not achieve a perfect evening, losing several states they had once hoped to win, including the Senate races in Delaware and Connecticut, because candidates supported by the Tea Party movement knocked out establishment candidates to win their nominations. But they did score notable victories in some tight races, like Pat Toomey's Senate run in Pennsylvania.
Still, the outcome on Tuesday marked nothing short of a comeback for Republicans two years after suffering a crushing defeat in the White House and four years after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate. It places the party back in the driver's seat in terms of policy, posing new challenges to Obama as he faces a tough two years in his term, but also for Republicans — led by Boehner — as he suddenly finds himself in a position of responsibility, rather than simply the outsider.
In the House, Republicans found victories in most corners of the country, including five seats in Pennsylvania; five in Ohio; at least three in Florida, Illinois and Virginia; and two in Georgia. Democrats braced for the prospect of historic defeats, more than the 39 seats the Republicans needed to win control. Republicans reached their majority by taking seats east of the Mississippi even before late results flowed in from farther West.
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