Democrats Take Majority in House; Pelosi Poised to Become Speaker

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 2:26 AM

Democrats captured a majority in the House of Representatives in midterm elections Tuesday, as voters delivered a rebuke to the Bush administration and the governing Republicans amid an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and a rash of scandals tainting GOP incumbents in several states.

The Senate, however, remained up for grabs, with Democrats winning four of the six Republican seats they needed for a majority there. Control of the Senate thus appeared to hinge on key races in Virginia and Montana. In Virginia, where Republican Sen. George Allen trailed Democrat James Webb by fewer than 3,000 votes with almost all precincts reporting, no winner had been declared as of early Wednesday. And in Montana, challenger Jon Tester, the Democratic president of the state Senate, was leading in a race to unseat Republican Conrad Burns, a veteran senator tainted by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

In Missouri, Republican incumbent James M. Talent conceded defeat early Wednesday to Democrat Claire McCaskill, the state auditor. "Our efforts fell a little bit short," he said. Minutes earlier, McCaskill had declared victory after opening a narrow lead with 85 percent of precincts reporting.

In Tennessee, the GOP held the seat being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, as Bob Corker, the Republican former mayor of Chattanooga, defeated Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., who had hoped to become the first black senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

"I think we will hold control of the Senate," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said on CNN.

Bush monitored the election results Tuesday night at the White House after voting in the morning in Crawford, Tex. He made no public comment as the returns came in. In the days leading up to the voting, he had repeatedly predicted Republican victories in both the House and Senate, saying GOP control of Congress was vital to assure victory in the war on terrorism.

The Democratic victory in the House marked a fundamental power shift in Washington, where Republicans have held the chamber for the past dozen years. It put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in position to take over next year as the first woman speaker of the House in U.S. history, and it posed a new challenge for President Bush during his final two years in the White House.

"Tonight is a great victory for the American people," Pelosi said in a late-night speech in Washington. "Today the American people voted for change, and they voted for Democrats to take our country in a new direction." She described the vote as a mandate "to restore stability and bipartisanship" in Washington and for "a new direction" in the war in Iraq.

"The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history," Pelosi said. She added, "And nowhere did the American people make it more clear that we need a new direction than in the war in Iraq. 'Stay the course' has not made our country safer, has not honored our commitment to our troops and has not made the region more stable. We cannot continue down this catastrophic path." She called on the Bush administration to work with Democrats "to find a solution to the war in Iraq."

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada told supporters, "All across America tonight . . . there is in the air a wind of change."

With returns trickling in from a number of hotly contested races, Democrats claimed the minimum of 15 victories they needed in Republican-held districts en route to what they hoped would be a larger House majority.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean tonight predicted a total gain of "about 30 seats" in the House.

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