WASHINGTON — Seizing control of the House and gaining strength in the Senate, triumphant Republicans ushered in a new era of divided government Wednesday and served notice they will confront President Barack Obama with a conservative agenda to cut government and spur private-sector jobs.
"We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, No. 2 Republican in the House, said as his party reaped a windfall from independent voters and tea party activists. He called the outcome a rejection of Obama more than an endorsement of the GOP, cautioning fellow Republicans they must to work to win public confidence.
"People want to see results," he said on CBS's "The Early Show." ''They want to see the government go on a diet just like they have."
Republicans scored the biggest party turnover in more than 70 years Tuesday with their win in the House and, in doing so, will dethrone Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi — a prime target of their campaign — who had crashed a political glass ceiling and made history with her elevation to speaker four years ago.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, overcame a tea party challenge from Republican Sharron Angle in one of the election's most brutally fought races. Sizing up the new order, Reid said he wants to preserve Obama's sweeping health care law and let taxes rise on upper income Americans but "I'm not bullheaded."
"If we need to work something out with the people who are really rich, I'll have to look at that," he told CNN's "American Morning." ''If there's some tweaking we need to do with the health care bill, I'm ready for some tweaking. But I'm not going to in any way denigrate the great work we did as a country, and saving America from bankruptcy because of the insurance industry bankrupting us."
Republican Rand Paul, who won a Kentucky Senate seat in a race powered by tea party support, said Americans need not fear gridlock in the next Congress because "debate is healthy."
"It seems like the most fiscally conservative government is always divided government," Paul said on NBC's "Today" show.
At the White House the morning after, senior Obama aides were noticeably absent from TV shows, where they normally appear after major events to put their spin on developments. All morning long, administration officials were staying silent so that Obama himself would have the first say, at a 1 p.m. EDT news conference.
Obama called Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the House speaker-in-waiting, to congratulate him late Tuesday. He also spoke with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and top Democrats in a series of conversations that reflected the shifting balance of power.
Incomplete returns showed the GOP picked up at least 60 House seats and led for four more, far in excess of what was needed for a majority. About two dozen races remained too close to call.
On their night of triumph, Republicans also gained at least six Senate seats, and tea party favorites Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Marco Rubio in Florida were among their winners.
Not all the tea party insurgents won. Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, for a seat that Republican strategists once calculated would be theirs with ease until her stunning upset victory in the primary.
O'Donnell's campaign was hobbled by revelations about her background and personal finances but she squarely blamed the party for the size of her loss. "Republican cannibalism," she said Wednesday on CNN. "Had we united as a party from top all way down, we could have articulately gotten that message out. Instead there was infighting."
In Nevada, Reid dispatched Angle in an especially costly and contentious campaign in a year filled with them.
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