Republicans captured control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and expanded their voice in the Senate, as discontented voters, frustrated about the nation’s continuing economic woes, turned sharply against President Obama just two years after catapulting him into the White House.
Mr. Obama now faces the prospect of shared government in Washington for the balance of his term, and the unusual balancing act that comes with a divided Congress.
While leaders of both parties are promising to cooperate, the prospects of bipartisanship are dicey — especially with the 2012 presidential election on the immediate horizon.
Republicans are already strongly positioned to win control of the Senate in 2012, when Democrats will be forced to defend 23 seats compared to just 10 for Republican incumbents, potentially limiting the party’s incentive to compromise. And the issues facing the nation in the months ahead are hugely divisive, including a debate over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and efforts to address the long-term fiscal problems, possibly by making big changes to Social Security and Medicare.
Receiving a congratulatory phone call from Mr. Obama after midnight, the likely speaker, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, told the president that his top priority would be to create jobs and cut spending, aides said. But the parties have disagreed fiercely over how to accomplish such goals.
At a news conference Wednesday morning at the Capitol, Mr. Boehner said Republicans would begin laying the groundwork for spending cuts and for repealing the health care law.
“The American people have concerns about government takeover of health care,” Mr. Boehner said. “I think it’s important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity.”
Overall, however, voters did not express any clear policy preferences that might help direct lawmakers.
They indiscriminately ousted Democratic incumbents who loyally supported Mr. Obama’s agenda, including the health care law, as well as lawmakers who carved their own path by voting against the president and the party leadership.
In surveys outside polling places, 39 percent of votes said reducing the budget deficit should be the top priority for the next Congress, while nearly as many said the first order of business should be job creation. Just 19 percent said the top priority should be cutting taxes.
Voters were divided over the question of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, as most Republican lawmakers advocate, or letting the rates expire on income above $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals as Democratic leaders have proposed.
For Mr. Obama’s fellow Democrats, who won majorities in the House and Senate in 2006, the election results were a punishing defeat. Republicans picked up at least 60 seats, surpassing their gains in the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, and making it the largest sweep of House races since 1948. In the Senate, Republicans nabbed at least six seats, a more modest gain. The Republican resurgence, propelled by deep economic worries and a forceful opposition to the Democratic agenda of health care and stimulus spending, delivered defeats to House Democrats from the Northeast to the South and across the Midwest.
A number of ousted incumbents were centrists, including fiscal hawks in the Blue Dog Coalition, leaving the Democratic caucuses not only diminished but more liberal.
Still, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, narrowly prevailed and his party hung on to control by winning hard-fought contests in California, Connecticut, Delaware and West Virginia.
Republicans picked up at least six Democratic seats, including the one formerly held by Mr. Obama, and the party will welcome Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky to their ranks, two candidates who were initially shunned by the establishment but beloved by the Tea Party movement. In an early morning appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Mr. Reid said it was time for the parties to cooperate. “The message to America today is that we’ve got to start working together,” he said. “The only way we can have progress is by working together. If that means legislative compromise, we’ve got to do that.”
Republicans won at least 60 seats, surpassing the 52 seats the party won in the sweep of 1994.
The most expensive midterm election campaign in the nation’s history, fueled by a raft of contributions from outside interest groups and millions in donations to candidates in both parties, played out across a wide battleground that stretched from Alaska to Maine.
The Republican tide swept into statehouse races, too, with Democrats poised to lose the majority of governorships, particularly those in majorpresidential swing states, like Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland was defeated.
Republicans picked up governorships in at least eight states, and Democrats lost at least nine, as Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican senator, was elected governor of Rhode Island as an independent.
One after another, once-unassailable Democrats like Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Representatives Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, Rick Boucher of Virginia and Chet Edwards of Texas fell to little-known Republican challengers.
“Voters sent a message that change has not happened fast enough,” said Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The outcome of Senate races in Colorado, Washington and Alaska was uncertain, and could remain so for days, as mail-in and write-in ballots were tabulated. Republican and Democratic lawyers were preparing for potential recounts in nine House district, but the results would not change the Republican conquest.
The future plans of the House Democratic leadership, beyond a lame-duck session of the current Congress that is set to begin on Nov. 15, were also not immediately clear.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, did not immediately say whether she would retire from Congress after losing the speakership or serve out the new term she won on Tuesday.
But in a statement about the election results, she was resolute in defending the policies of her caucus — despite the evident voter backlash — and she said Democrats had saved the nation from economic disaster.
“Over the last four years, the Democratic majority in the House took courageous action on behalf of America’s middle class to create jobs and save the country from the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” Ms. Pelosi said, adding:
“The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward.”
Republicans did not achieve a perfect evening, losing races in several states they had once hoped to win, including the Senate contests in Delaware and Connecticut, because some candidates supported by the Tea Party movement knocked out establishment candidates to win their nominations.
But Republicans did score notable victories in some tight races, like the Pennsylvania Senate contest, where former Representative Pat Toomey defeated Representative Joe Sestak for the seat now held by Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat.
The outcome on Tuesday was nothing short of a remarkable comeback for Republicans two years after they suffered a crushing defeat in the White House and four years after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate.
It gives the party substantial leverage in terms of policy, posing new challenges to Mr. Obama as he faces a tough two years in his term, but also for Republicans — led by Mr. Boehner — as he suddenly finds himself in a position of responsibility, rather than being simply the outsider.
In the House, Republicans found victories in most corners of the country, including five seats each in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, at least three in Illinois, three in Florida, Tennessee and Virginia and two each in Arkansas, Colorado and Mississippi.
Throughout the evening, in race after race, Republican challengers defeated Democratic incumbents, despite being at significant fund-raising disadvantages.
Republican-oriented independent groups invariably came to the rescue, helping level of the playing field, including in Florida’s 24th Congressional District, in which Sandy Adams defeated Representative Suzanne Kosmas; Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, where Mr. Boucher, a 14-term incumbent, lost to Morgan Griffith; and Texas’s 17th Congressional District, in which Mr. Edwards, who was seeking his 11th term, succumbed to Bill Flores.
Democrats argued that the Republican triumph was far from complete, particularly in the Senate, pointing to the preservation of Mr. Reid, and other races.
In Delaware, Chris Coons defeated Christine O’Donnell, whose candidacy became a symbol of the unorthodox political candidates swept onto the ballot in Republican primary contests. Ms. O’Donnell, speaking on CNN on Wednesday morning called her loss a “symptom of Republican cannibalism.” She blamed the commentator Karl Rove, formerly President George W. Bush’s senior strategist, and other party leaders for not uniting behind her campaign.
But mainstream Republicans could just as easily blame unsuccessful Tea Party candidates for costing them a shot at winning control of the Senate.
In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, prevailed over an insurgent Republican rival to fill the seat held for a half-century by Senator Robert C. Byrd. And in California, Senator Barbara Boxer turned back a vigorous challenge from Carly Fiorina, a Republican.
But Democrats conceded that their plans to increase voter turnout did not meet expectations, party strategists said, and extraordinary efforts that Mr. Obama made in the final days of the campaign appeared to have borne little fruit.
The president flew to Charlottesville, Va., on Friday evening, for instance, in hopes of rallying Democrats to support Representative Tom Perriello, a freshman who supported every piece of the administration’s agenda, but he was defeated despite the president’s appeals to Democrats in a state that he carried two years ago.
In governors’ races, Republicans won several contests in the nation’s middle.
They held onto governorships in Texas, Nebraska and South Dakota, and had seized seats now occupied by Democrats in Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas. Sam Brownback, a United States Senator and Republican, easily took the Kansas post that Mark Parkinson, a former Republican turned Democrat, is leaving behind.
Before the election, Democrats held 26 governors’ seats compared to 24 for the Republicans, As of Wednesday morning, Republicans controlled 26, and Democrats just 14, with 9 races still undecided..
In New York, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democrat, easily defeated the Republican, Carl P. Paladino, even as Republicans were expected to pick up seats in the state legislature and the congressional delegation. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick won a second term.
As the election results rolled in, with Republicans picking up victories shortly after polls closed in states across the South, East and the Midwest, the House speaker, Ms. Pelosi, and other party leaders made urgent appeals through television interviews that there was still time for voters in other states to cast their ballots.
But the mood in Democratic quarters was glum, with few early signs of optimism in House or Senate races that were called early in the evening. Surveys that were conducted with voters across the country also provided little sense of hope for Democrats, with Republicans gaining a majority of independents, college-educated people and suburbanites — all groups that were part of the coalition of voters who supported Mr. Obama two years ago.
“We’ve come to take our government back,” Mr. Paul told cheering supporters who gathered in Bowling Green, Ky. “They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s most deliberative body. I’m going to ask them to deliberate on this: The American people are unhappy with what’s going on in Washington.”
In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” on Wednesday Mr. Paul also promised collegiality. “I’m not afraid to point out hypocrisy but I’m also a fairly pleasant guy,” he said.
The election was a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic agenda, according to interviews with voters that were conducted for the National Election Pool, a consortium of television networks and The Associated Press, with a wide majority of the electorate saying that the country was seriously off track. Nearly nine in 10 voters said they were worried about the economy and about 4 in 10 said their family’s situation had worsened in the last two years.
The surveys found that voters were even more dissatisfied with Congress now than they were in 2006, when Democrats reclaimed control from the Republicans. Preliminary results also indicated an electorate far more conservative than four years ago, a sign of stronger turnout by people leaning toward Republicans.
Most voters said they believed Mr. Obama’s policies would hurt the country in the long run, rather than help it, and a large share of voters said they supported the Tea Party movement, which has backed insurgent candidates all across the country.
The Republican winds began blowing back in January when Democrats lost the seat long held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, with the victory of Scott P. Brown serving as a motivating force for the budding Tea Party movement and a burst of inspiration for Republican candidates across the country to step forward and challenge Democrats everywhere.
On Tuesday, the president did not leave the grounds of the White House, taking a respite from days of campaigning across the country, so he could meet with a circle of top advisers to plot a way forward for his administration and his own looming re-election campaign.
The White House said Mr. Obama would hold a news conference on Wednesday to address the governing challenges that await the new Congress.
“My hope is that I can cooperate with Republicans,” Mr. Obama said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “But obviously, the kinds of compromises that will be made depends on what Capitol Hill looks like — who’s in charge.”
But even as the president was poised to offer a fresh commitment to bipartisanship, he spent the final hours of the midterm campaign trying to persuade Democrats in key states to take time to vote. From the Oval Office, Mr. Obama conducted one radio interview after another, urging black voters in particular to help preserve the party’s majority and his agenda.
“How well I’m able to move my agenda forward over the next couple of years is going to depend on folks back home having my back,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Chicago radio station WGCI, in which he made an unsuccessful appeal for voters to keep his former Senate seat in Democratic hands.
There was little Democratic terrain across the country that seemed immune to Republican encroachment, with many of the most competitive races being waged in states that Mr. Obama carried strongly only two years ago. From the president’s home state of Illinois to neighboring Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio — all places that were kind to the Democratic ticket in 2008 — Republicans worked aggressively to find new opportunities.
For all the drama surrounding the final day of the midterm campaign, more than 19 million Americans had voted before Tuesday, a trend that has grown with each election cycle over the last decade, as 32 states now offer a way for voters to practice democracy in far more convenient ways than simply waiting in line on Election Day.
Source: The New York Times