washingtonpost.com
GOP seizes control of House, as economy drives party gains

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

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.

In Indiana, former congressman Dan Coats (R) scored an easy victory over Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) for a seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh. Another Republican gain came in North Dakota, where Gov. John Hoeven easily captured the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan.

Republicans also won a Senate seat in Pennsylvania - where Republican Pat Toomey defeated Rep. Joe Sestak, who had beaten party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary - and just after midnight they added the Senate seat Obama once held in Illinois. There, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R) defeated Alexi Giannoulias (D) in one of the year's nastiest campaigns.

But in West Virginia's Senate race, Gov. Joe Manchin III (D), who appeared in trouble only a few weeks ago, defeated Republican businessman John Raese.

And Democratic control of the Senate was assured just before midnight, when Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) was declared the winner in her bitter contest against former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina.

That meant that, for the first time in eight decades, the House changed hands without the Senate following suit.

The final balance of the Senate remained in doubt Tuesday night, with several Democratic incumbents in contests too close to call, including races in Illinois, Colorado and Washington. The other race still outstanding was in Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), waging a write-in campaign, was leading over tea party favorite Joe Miller, who won the GOP primary. Democrat Scott McAdams was running third.

In Kentucky's Senate race, tea party favorite Rand Paul (R) handily defeated state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) to keep the seat in the GOP column. "There's a tea party tidal wave, and we're sending a message," Paul told cheering supporters at his victory party.

In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio, another tea-party-backed candidate, cruised to a Senate victory against Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) and Gov. Charlie Crist, who quit the GOP to run as an independent.

O'Donnell loses in Delaware

One of the most prominent tea party Republicans, Christine O'Donnell, lost her bid for the Senate in Delaware, as Democrat Chris Coons won the seat once occupied by Vice President Biden. O'Donnell had been a surprise winner over Rep. Michael N. Castle in the GOP primary. But her quirky style - in her first television ad she declared, "I am not a witch" - instantly converted a likely Republican pickup into a seat that was firmly in the Democrats' hands.

Her loss was a reminder that while the tea party helped fuel the GOP surge this year, some of the candidates most favored by tea party activists proved shaky in general election contests.

In Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment, lost her Senate race against state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D), despite spending about $50 million of her own money.

Republicans held their Senate seat in Ohio, where former congressman and George W. Bush administration budget director Rob Portman cruised past the Democrat, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. In Missouri, another House veteran, Rep. Roy Blunt (R), kept for his party the seat held by retiring Sen. Christopher S. Bond.

In New Hampshire, Republican state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte won the seat of retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R), while in Kansas, Rep. Jerry Moran (R) took the seat of Sen. Sam Brownback (R), who won the governor's race there.

Republican incumbents won their reelection bids in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota. Democrats were reelected in Maryland, in New York (both Senate seats) and in Vermont.

Republicans also made gains in governor's races, picking up at least nine seats while surrendering two, including one to an independent candidate, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee.

Republicans won the major industrial and Midwestern states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. They won two conservative bastions, Kansas and Tennessee, that had been in Democratic hands, as well as New Mexico. In Texas, Democrats fell far short in their effort to unseat Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Democrats regained the governorship of California, however, when former governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown defeated former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, despite the roughly $160 million she spent on her candidacy, most of it from her own pocket.

Races in Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont were still being counted.

Economy is the main worry

With the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent nationwide, economic issues dominated the voters' agenda Tuesday. More than six in 10 called the economy their top concern, according to preliminary national exit poll data. About nine in 10 said the economy is in bad shape, and more than three times as many said they believe it is getting worse.

About half of all voters said they are "very worried" about the national economy, and most of them backed Republican House candidates.

Just 44 percent of voters said they approve of Obama's performance as president, according to preliminary findings, with 55 percent saying they disapprove. Significantly more voters said their vote was a message of opposition to the president than a sign of support - 37 percent to 24 percent.

Polling director Jon Cohen and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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