Democrats Take Majority in House
Senate Remains Too Close to Call
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 12:12 AM
Democrats captured a majority the House of
Representatives tonight, as voters delivered a rebuke
to the Bush administration and the governing
Republicans amid an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq
and a rash of scandals tainting GOP incumbents in
The Senate, however, remained up for grabs tonight,
with Democrats winning half of the six Republican
seats they needed for a majority there, but several
other key races still too close to call.
The victory in the House marked a fundamental power
shift in Washington, where Republicans have held the
chamber for the past dozen years. It put Rep. Nancy
Pelosi (D-Calif.) in position to take over next year
as the first woman speaker of the House in U.S.
history, and it poses a new challenge for President
Bush during his final two years in the White House.
With returns trickling in from a number of hotly
contested races, Democrats claimed the minimum of 15
victories they needed in Republican-held districts en
route to what they hoped would be a larger majority in
In the House, Democrats reached the threshold by
knocking off Republicans in three districts in
Indiana, two districts in Florida, New Hampshire,
Pennsylvania and New York, and one each in
Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio.
Additional Democratic victories were subsequently
reported in Arizona.
White House officials privately acknowledged that
Democrats appeared almost certain to win significantly
more seats than needed to gain control of the House
for the first time since 1994 -- a result that would
dramatically alter the balance of power in Washington
for final two years of the Bush administration.
In the Senate, Democrats gained three of the six seats
they needed for control of that chamber, knocking off
Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode
In Pennsylvania, Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr.
defeated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in a closely
watched race. In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown
ousted two-term incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine. In Rhode
Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic former state
attorney general, defeated Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, a
Santorum, a staunch conservative who chairs the Senate
Republican Conference, making him the party's
third-ranking leader in the chamber, conceded to Casey
tonight, congratulating him on running "an excellent
In one crucial Senate race that the Democrats needed
to win to boost their chances of gaining a majority,
incumbent Robert Menendez in New Jersey held off
Republican Thomas H. Kean Jr., son of a former New
Another incumbent, Joseph I. Lieberman, running as a
third-party candidate in Connecticut, held onto his
Senate seat, defeating Ned Lamont, who won the
Democratic Party's nomination over Lieberman in the
state's primary. Lieberman, who was the Democratic
nominee for vice president in 2000, has said he plans
to caucus with the Democrats.
In Maryland, television networks and the Associated
Press projected Democratic Rep. Benjamin Cardin as the
winner over Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele after a
tough campaign for the seat vacated by retiring Sen.
Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.
The first of the Republican House seats to fall into
the Democratic column was in Indiana, where Rep. John
N. Hostettler was beaten by challenger Brad Ellsworth.
More Democratic pickups in the House came in Kentucky,
where John Yarmuth toppled Republican incumbent Anne
M. Northup, and Indiana, where Democrat Joe Donnelly
took the seat of Republican Rep. Chris Chocola. In
Connecticut, Democrat Chris Murphy, a 32-year-old
state senator, knocked off veteran Republican Rep.
Nancy L. Johnson.
With Americans increasingly disenchanted with the
situation in Iraq and President Bush saddled with low
job-approval ratings, Democrats were mounting their
strongest challenge to Republican control of Congress
in a dozen years. The voting was widely seen as a
gauge of public sentiment on national issues,
including the war and Bush's leadership.
Turnout was reported to be relatively heavy in some
places, with lines forming soon after polls opened in
Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and other states with
Some of the longer waits were attributed to technical
glitches with new electronic voting machines in
several states. Balloting was delayed in dozens of
precincts in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and
Colorado, forcing election officials to extend polling
hours in some places. However, the computer problems
and other delays did not appear to be widespread or
politically motivated, election monitors said.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. EST in Indiana and Kentucky and
at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. EST in most eastern, southern and
Midwestern states. Poll closings were set for 11 p.m.
EST in California, Washington and Hawaii and midnight
EST in Alaska.
At stake in today's elections were all 435 seats in
the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats
in the Senate. In addition, voters in 36 states were
The elections offered Democrats a chance to take
control of Congress for the first time since they lost
the House and Senate in a 1994 Republican landslide.
The GOP has held the House ever since, and the Senate
has been under Republican control since then, except
for a 19-month period in 2001 and 2002 when a GOP
senator quit the party to become an independent.
According to exit polling reported by CNN, national
issues were much on voters' minds today, with
corruption, terrorism, the economy and Iraq topping
the list of concerns. Belying the bromide that all
politics is local, 62 percent of those polled said
national issues were the biggest factors in
determining their choices, while 33 percent cited
Voters' emphasis on corruption and Iraq appeared to be
good news for Democrats, given a slew of scandals that
have dogged Republican lawmakers and the growing
unpopularity of the war in Iraq. On the other hand,
Bush and his fellow Republicans have touted economic
gains and their commitment to the war on terrorism as
reasons to stick with a GOP-controlled Congress.
In Indiana, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar cruised to
reelection as expected against a Libertarian
candidate, and in Vermont, Rep. Bernard Sanders, an
avowed socialist running as an independent, easily won
the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of James M.
Jeffords, a former Republican who became an
independent in 2001. The win by Sanders made him the
first socialist to be elected to the Senate.
In West Virginia, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat who
turns 89 later this month and is the longest-serving
current member of Congress, won reelection handily.
Also winning reelection to the Senate were Republican
Olympia Snowe in Maine and Democrats Edward M. Kennedy
in Massachusetts and Bill Nelson in Florida. Nelson
defeated Rep. Katherine Harris, a Republican who, as
Florida secretary of state, presided over the hotly
contested election in the state that gave the
presidency to Bush in 2000.
In Ohio, Democrat Ted Strickland defeated Republican
J. Kenneth Blackwell in the race for governor,
capitalizing on popular discontent over the
scandal-plagued administration of outgoing Republican
Gov. Bob Taft.
Among other winners in gubernatorial races were
incumbent Democrats Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Rod
Blagojevich in Illinois and Ed Rendell in
Pennsylvania, who beat Republican Lynn Swann, a former
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver. In Connecticut,
Republican M. Jodi Rell won reelection. In
Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick captured the
governorship, becoming the second African American to
win an election for governor in U.S. history.
Opinion polls before the elections indicated that the
House was within the Democrats' grasp, while control
of the Senate depended on a handful of tossup races. A
Democratic majority in the House would make Rep. Nancy
Pelosi of California the first woman speaker of the
House in U.S. history.
Among the most closely watches races were senatorial
elections in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri,
Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and
Pennsylvania. In Virginia, Republican incumbent George
Allen was locked in a tight race with Democrat James
Webb, a novelist and former secretary of the Navy in
the Reagan administration.
Early returns showed Allen and Webb running neck and
In Tennessee, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat, was
seeking to upset Bob Corker, the Republican former
mayor of Chattanooga. Ford hoped to become the first
black senator elected from the South since
Another tight race was playing out in Missouri, where
Republican Sen. James M. Talent was trying to fend off
a strong challenge from Democratic state auditor
Claire McCaskill. In Montana, Republican incumbent
Conrad Burns was in a close race with Democrat Jon
Tester, president of the state senate.
Going into the elections, Republicans held 230 seats
in the House and the Democrats had 201. One was held
by an independent who usually votes with the
Democrats, and three were vacant.
According to a Washington Post analysis of competitive
races, the Democrats appeared poised on the eve of the
election to capture more than the needed 15 seats,
with a gain of around 25 well within the realm of
possibility. Republicans were virtually conceding 10
seats before ballots were even cast, and 30 other
House seats -- all but one held by Republicans -- were
In the Senate, Democrats faced a tougher challenge,
needing to gain six seats to achieve a majority. In
the outgoing Congress, Republicans held 55 Senate
seats, Democrats had 44 and one was occupied by an
independent who typically sided with the Democrats.
Democrats were confident of taking at least three of
the Republican Senate seats they needed, but they
faced the daunting challenge of having to win in three
more states out of four where the races were
considered tossups: Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and
The power of incumbency favored Republicans as voters
went to the polls. Since 1996, incumbents have had a
reelection rate of well over 90 percent. Because of
such factors as the gerrymandering of congressional
districts, incumbents in the House have enjoyed a
reelection rate approaching 99 percent in some recent
This year, however, at least 63 of the House races
were considered competitive.
In addition to the congressional and gubernatorial
races, 46 states were holding legislative elections to
fill 6,181 seats -- 83 percent of the total state
legislative seats nationwide. The four states not
holding state legislative elections this year are
Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.
Control of state legislatures is important because in
nearly three-fourths of the states, legislative bodies
have primary responsibility for drawing congressional
district boundaries, a major factor in determining
which party's candidates are sent to Washington to
serve in the House. Going into today's balloting, 20
state legislatures were controlled by Republicans and
19 by Democrats, with 10 others split. One state,
Nebraska, has nonpartisan elections for a unicameral
In 37 states, voters also faced a total of more than
200 ballot measures on issues ranging from property
rights, same-sex marriage and the minimum wage to
restrictions on abortion and smoking. Bans on same-sex
marriage were on the ballot in eight states, including
Virginia, and seven states were considering
tobacco-related measures, such as prohibitions on
smoking in enclosed public places. Minimum wage
increases were before the voters in six states,
abortion was on the ballot in three, and one state --
Missouri -- was considering a measure to legalize
embryonic stem cell research.
Nasty campaigns marked by personal attacks and
negative advertising were waged in many of today's
contests, and allegations of last-minute dirty tricks
surfaced in some places. In Virginia, the State Board
of Elections asked the FBI to investigate complaints
that phony callers tried to intimidate voters or
deceive them about the location of polling places. The
Webb campaign blamed the GOP, which denied having
anything to do with the calls.
Complaints about deceptive phone calls were also
reported in New Mexico and Ohio.
Barrages of automated phone calls, called
"robo-calls," also angered voters in many locations.
In Connecticut, for example, Republicans launched a
blizzard of robo-calls backing incumbent Rep.
Christopher Shays in his battle for reelection against
Democrat Diane Farrell. But the calls began with a
cheery notation about Farrell, leading some voters to
assume the Democrat had sponsored the calls.
In Bridgeport, Connecticut's largest city, Bill Moll,
80, said the volume of calls about Farrell "drove me
nuts," prompting him to vote for Shays, Washington
Post staff writer Michael Powell reported. Told that
many of the calls were likely sponsored by national
Republicans, Moll shrugged. "Then I voted for the
wrong reason," he said.