GOP seizes control of House, as economy drives party gains

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just four years after surrendering power, Republicans recaptured control of the House and made gains in the Senate on Tuesday night, in a major rebuff of President Obama and the Democrats by an electorate worried about the economy and the size of the government.

But in the most closely watched race of the year, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid defeated Sharron Angle, the tea party Republican who carried the hopes of conservatives across the country to beat the Senate's most powerful Democrat.

In Washington, Republicans staged a jubilant victory party. "Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people," said an emotional Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), who is now poised to become the next House speaker.

Obama called Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once it was clear that the House had fallen to the GOP. The president said he looked forward to working with Republicans "to find common ground, move the country forward and get things done for the American people," according to the White House. Boehner, according to aides, said he will deal with the president in a "straightforward and honest" way.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who became the target of Republicans in their campaigns, issued a statement early Wednesday. "The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people," she said. "We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward."

Republican candidates were propelled by a combination of voter anxiety about the economy and a significant shift in sentiment among independents, who were critical to Obama's 2008 victory and to the Democrats' takeover of Congress in 2006. Democratic efforts to rally young people and minorities also fell short. Both groups voted in smaller percentages than two years ago.

In House races, Democratic incumbents fell throughout the night as, from the moment the polls began to close, Republicans marched steadily toward the 39 seats they needed to win the majority. The GOP crossed that threshold before midnight and continued to pick up seats as the counting went on in the West.

By 1 a.m., Republican gains hit 55 seats. That wiped out all the gains that Democrats made in 2006 and 2008 and slid past the 54 seats the GOP achieved in its 1994 landslide. Republicans picked up at least three seats in Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The GOP wave in the House spared few of the most vulnerable Democrats. Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee who was bidding for his 15th term, lost his race, as did 17-term Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.) , chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and 10-term Rep. Chet Edwards (Tex.).

Newer Democrats who embraced Obama's agenda were turned out, including Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia and Rep. John Boccieri in Ohio. But some Democrats who did not embrace all of the president's major initiatives were also defeated.

Democrats hold on to Senate

Republicans gained at least six Senate seats but were blocked from winning the 10 needed to take control of that chamber as Democrats held enough of their most endangered states.

Early in the evening, Republicans picked off a Democratic seat in Arkansas, where Rep. John Boozman defeated Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln, who survived a tough primary, was the first Senate incumbent to lose. Later, Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who began the year on no one's list of endangered incumbents, lost to Republican businessman Ron Johnson.

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