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Democrats Take Majority in House

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/07/AR2006110700473.html?referrer=email Democrats Take Majority in House Senate Remains Too Close
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2006

      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
      several states.

      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
      the House.

      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
      Republican moderate.

      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
      Jersey governor.

      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
      competitive races.

      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
      electing governors.

      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
      local issues.

      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
      considered tossups.

      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.
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