Even before the full breadth of their victories had been determined, triumphant Republicans today turned from counting their many wins to planning ways to flex their new muscles and work with a weakened Democratic president.
Both Washington and many state capitals were fundamentally altered by a national tidal wave that drew power from widespread voter discontent and swept Republicans into control of the House and closer to a majority in the Senate while capturing a record number of state legislatures and key governor's mansions.
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, there was no doubt of the message as they began taking steps to grab the reins of power they won Tuesday.
“The Obama-Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people,” said Speaker-to-be John Boehner this morning. “They want the president to change course.”
Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor met with reporters briefly in the minority leader’s office, which he soon will be vacating for the more spacious Speaker’s suite. He said the election was “a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government.”
At a later news conference, where he was joined by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Boehner promised that “the new majority here in Congress will be the voice of the American people.”
He said he and the president “discussed working together on the peoples’ priorities” during a congratulatory phone call from the White House. “We hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us” on the Republican priorities, Boehner said.
McConnell stressed that the election fell short of a “full transfer” of power from Democrats to Republicans, calling it only “the first step.” He warned Democrats that “further change can happen in 2012” if they don’t work with Republicans.
But he was optimistic, saying, “I anticipate enough Democrats to come in our direction on spending and debt that we can actually make progress.”
In the earlier session, Boehner was more pointed about the agenda he will push starting in January. He took direct -- but cautious -- aim at the president’s health care reform measure. He said he wants to “repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common sense reforms.” But he said that will not happen until he can “lay the groundwork.”
Pointedly, Republicans stopped short of calling the results an embrace of their party. On CBS's Early Show, Cantor said Republicans have “been given a second chance and a golden opportunity.”
The Virginian added, “People want to see results. They want to see the government go on a diet just like they have.”
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 lead 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.
In Alaska, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski appeared to be winning her long-shot bid to retain her seat through a write-in effort despite losing the GOP primary to a tea-party-backed foe. “It looks a little scary for Joe Miller,” Sen. Jim DeMint told National Journal. The South Carolina Republican was a strong backer of Miller. A win for Murkowski, of course, does not alter the party breakdown in the Senate.
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 11 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, Wisconsin, and Michigan, 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 19 chambers flipped to GOP control, giving Republicans their highest numbers since 1928, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Two gubernatorial races did not produce winners until this morning. In politically pivotal Florida, Democrat Alex Sink conceded to Republican Rick Scott even though neither the networks nor the Associated Press had declared it over. Earlier in Vermont, Republican Brian Dubie conceded to Democrat Peter Shumlin.
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 Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada narrowly defeated tea party favorite Sharron Angle.
An obviously relieved Reid made the morning show rounds, pledging to work with the newly empowered Republicans.
“All of us -- all of us -- who are going to be in the Senate have to work together. That’s the message from the American people,” he said on CNN. He insisted he is “looking forward to that.”
He aadded, “I have a good relationship with Mitch McConnell, my Republican counterpart. I’ve known John Boehner for many years, and I think this is a time we need to set aside our speeches, and start rolling up our sleeves and have a little sweat on our brow.”
Newcomers who come to the Senate without such ties to the veterans will make the terrain more difficult to navigate. Tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida easily defeated their Democratic rivals 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 preelection interviews with more than 9,000 voters.