With several races still to be decided, Washington awoke to a drastically changed political landscape Wednesday after Republicans swept to victory in races across the country, seizing control of the House, making gains in the Senate, capturing multiple state legislatures and statehouses and sending a loud message of historic discontent.
For President Obama, the message was both painful and pointed as dozens of members of Congress were punished by voters for supporting his agenda. Those who survived – and the electorate that gave full vent to its fury – now wait for the president’s press conference at 1 p.m. to see what message he took from his party’s drubbing.
For Republicans, whose leaders will hold their own press conference two hours before Obama’s, there was no doubt of the message as they began taking steps to seize the reins of power they won Tuesday.
His voice choked with emotion, House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner called the results “a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of Big Government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people.”
As speaker, Boehner will enjoy a majority beyond what he had hoped for when he started planning his 2010 strategy. With about two dozen races still too close to call, Republicans picked up at least 60 Democratic seats and led in four more. It is the biggest power shift in 70 years.
In the Senate, Republicans won at least six Democratic-held seats – Wisconsin, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Indiana, and Illinois – with the possibility of gaining two more from the three states still being contested. The too-close states are Colorado and Washington – both held by Democrats – and Alaska, a three-way race for a seat now held by a Republican.
The results end an era of one-party government that was all too brief for Democrats, whose 2008 celebration is but a distant memory now. The Democratic casualty list is both deep and wide.
The party lost at least 10 governorships, with some of the worst losses coming in the industrial Midwest. With ominous implications for the 2012 presidential race and the upcoming redistricting, the losses included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, with Illinois still too close to call. Those losses were compounded by sweeping Republican gains in the often overlooked battles for state legislative chambers. At least 18 chambers flipped to GOP control, giving Republicans their highest numbers since 1928, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In elections shadowed by high unemployment, Democrats had very few victories to celebrate. They did hold Republicans short of the 10 wins they needed to gain control of the Senate. And they did prevail in the highest profile contest, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada narrowly defeated tea party favorite Sharron Angle.
"I’m not finished fighting," Reid said to a crowd of supporters chanting "Harry! Harry!"
Tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida easily defeated their Democratic rivals for Senate seats despite being cast as extremists. But Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, a state that Republicans had long thought would be in their column.
Even amid the celebrating, the tea party insurgents sent a message to a Republican establishment that had tried mightily to defeat them in primaries.
"We make a great mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party," Rubio said. A rising GOP star, Rubio seized his new role as a party leader and potential presidential candidate, casting the results as "a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago."
Even as he claimed the speaker's gavel, Boehner said, "The American people are demanding a new way forward in Washington."
With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally, interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties, and the federal government.
About 4 in 10 voters said they were worse off financially now than they were two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and pre-election surveys by The Associated Press. More than 1 in 3 said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama. More than half expressed negative views about both political parties. Roughly 40 percent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.
The preliminary findings were based on Election Day and pre-election interviews with more than 9,000 voters.
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