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Democrats Take Majority in House; Pelosi Poised to Become Speaker
Among other winners in gubernatorial races were incumbent Democrats Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania, who beat Republican Lynn Swann, a former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver. In Connecticut, Republican M. Jodi Rell won reelection. In Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick captured the governorship, becoming the second African American to win an election for governor in U.S. history.
Opinion polls before the elections indicated that the House was within the Democrats' grasp, while control of the Senate depended on a handful of tossup races.
Among the most closely watches races were senatorial elections in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. In Virginia, Allen was locked in a tight race with Webb, a novelist and former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration.
With almost all precincts reporting, Webb was slightly ahead, but the race was still too close to call.
Allen said the counting would continue Wednesday.
Going into the elections, Republicans held 230 seats in the House and the Democrats had 201. One was held by an independent who usually votes with the Democrats, and three were vacant.
According to a Washington Post analysis of competitive races, the Democrats appeared poised on the eve of the election to capture more than the needed 15 seats, with a gain of around 25 well within the realm of possibility. Republicans were virtually conceding 10 seats before ballots were even cast, and 30 other House seats -- all but one held by Republicans -- were considered tossups.
In the Senate, Democrats faced a tougher challenge, needing to gain six seats to achieve a majority. In the outgoing Congress, Republicans held 55 Senate seats, Democrats had 44 and one was occupied by an independent who typically sided with the Democrats.
Democrats were confident of taking at least three of the Republican Senate seats they needed, but they faced the daunting challenge of having to win in three more states out of four where the races were considered tossups: Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Montana.
The power of incumbency favored Republicans as voters went to the polls. Since 1996, incumbents have had a reelection rate of well over 90 percent. Because of such factors as the gerrymandering of congressional districts, incumbents in the House have enjoyed a reelection rate approaching 99 percent in some recent elections.
This year, however, at least 63 of the House races were considered competitive.
In addition to the congressional and gubernatorial races, 46 states were holding legislative elections to fill 6,181 seats -- 83 percent of the total state legislative seats nationwide. The four states not holding state legislative elections this year are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.
Control of state legislatures is important because in nearly three-fourths of the states, legislative bodies have primary responsibility for drawing congressional district boundaries, a major factor in determining which party's candidates are sent to Washington to serve in the House. Going into Tuesday's balloting, 20 state legislatures were controlled by Republicans and 19 by Democrats, with 10 others split. One state, Nebraska, has nonpartisan elections for a unicameral legislature.
In 37 states, voters also faced a total of more than 200 ballot measures on issues ranging from property rights, same-sex marriage and the minimum wage to restrictions on abortion and smoking. Bans on same-sex marriage were on the ballot in eight states, including Virginia, and seven states were considering tobacco-related measures, such as prohibitions on smoking in enclosed public places. Minimum wage increases were before the voters in six states, abortion was on the ballot in three, and one state -- Missouri -- was considering a measure to legalize embryonic stem cell research.
Nasty campaigns marked by personal attacks and negative advertising were waged in many of the contests, and allegations of last-minute dirty tricks surfaced in some places. In Virginia, the State Board of Elections asked the FBI to investigate complaints that phony callers tried to intimidate voters or deceive them about the location of polling places. The Webb campaign blamed the GOP, which denied having anything to do with the calls.
Complaints about deceptive phone calls were also reported in New Mexico and Ohio.
Barrages of automated phone calls, called "robo-calls," also angered voters in many locations. In Connecticut, for example, Republicans launched a blizzard of robo-calls backing incumbent Rep. Christopher Shays in his battle for reelection against Democrat Diane Farrell. But the calls began with a cheery notation about Farrell, leading some voters to assume the Democrat had sponsored the calls.
In Bridgeport, Connecticut's largest city, Bill Moll, 80, said the volume of calls about Farrell "drove me nuts," prompting him to vote for Shays, Washington Post staff writer Michael Powell reported. Told that many of the calls were likely sponsored by national Republicans, Moll shrugged. "Then I voted for the wrong reason," he said.