November 2, 2010
Tea Party Notches Early Victories With Paul and Rubio
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
The Tea Party captured its first big victories Tuesday when Marco Rubio won a United States Senate seat in Florida and Rand Paul won his Senate bid in Kentucky. The victories seemed to be a precursor of big gains in Congress for the Republican Party.
In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats, a Republican who served in the House from 1981 to 1989 and in the Senate for a decade from 1989 to 1999, won the seat long held by Evan Bayh, a Democrat who is retiring. Mr. Coats beat Representative Brad Ellsworth.
And in another sign of Republican strength, in Ohio, the Republican Rob Portman, a former United States representative and budget director for President George W. Bush, won the Senate seat being vacated by George V. Voinovich, a retiring Republican. Mr. Portman defeated the Democratic lieutenant governor, Lee Fisher.
While Mr. Portman’s victory did not represent a pick up for Republicans, it signaled that the party was running strong in a battleground state that had been the focus of intense campaigning in recent days by Democratic leaders.
While Tea Party-backed candidates captured high-profile victories with the Rubio and Paul victories in Florida and Kentucky, one of their candidates, Christine O'Donnell, went down to defeat in Delaware, where Christopher Coons won the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The early results, and surveys of voters outside polling places, signaled that the elections would recalibrate the balance of power in Washington and in state houses across the nation, as voters distressed over the lingering economic woes, seemed eager to rebuke President Obama and his fellow Democrats. Preliminary surveys of voters showed an electorate broadly concerned about the economy and a wide majority saying that the country was seriously on the wrong track. Most voters also said they disapprove of the way President Obama and members of Congress are doing their jobs.
The surveys, by Edison Research, an independent group that conducts the polling for the news media, found more than 8 in 10 voters worried about the direction of the economy over the next year and more than 4 in 10 saying their own family’s financial situation had worsened in the last two years.
The results confirmed the grim outlook about the current state of the country that has had Democrats bracing for steep losses and Republicans optimistic about making strong midterm gains in both the House and Senate.
The surveys found voters even more unhappy with Congress now than they were in 2006, when Democrats reclaimed control from the Republicans, and even more likely this year than at that point to say the country was moving in the wrong direction. The initial results also indicated an electorate far more conservative than in 2006, a sign of stronger turnout by people leaning toward the Republicans.
Most voters said they believed Mr. Obama’s policies would hurt the country in the long run, rather than help it and about 4 in 10 voters said that they supported the Tea Party movement, which has backed insurgent candidates all across the country.
The results came after a day of pitched appeals by leading politicians for supporters to turn out to vote. Former President Bill Clinton called radio programs in Ohio, on behalf of the Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, who is in a tough re-election fight. Before casting his own vote, near his official residence in Columbus, Mr. Strickland handed his identification card to a poll worker who jokingly asked if he was still the governor.
“For the time being I am,” Mr. Strickland replied.
At the White House, Mr. Obama, who had already voted by absentee ballot, gave live Election Day radio interviews in a bid to lift support for Democratic candidates, including the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who was locked in a tight race against Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate backed by the Tea Party.
“There are a lot of folks out there who really haven’t gotten the message.” Mr. Obama said in an interview on WGCI in Chicago, one of many radio stations he called Tuesday to encourage voter turnout. “This is a really important election, making sure folks have health care, making sure that young people are able to get college scholarships. All those things that we’ve worked so hard on over the last two years are going to be at stake. The key is making sure everyone gets out to vote.”
The White House said Mr. Obama would hold a news conference on Wednesday.
In all, 37 Senate seats were being voted on across the country on Tuesday. There were also governor’s races in 37 states, including California, Texas, Florida and New York, where the Democrat, Andrew M. Cuomo, seemed well positioned to defeat the Republican, Carl P. Paladino, who also has backing from Tea Party supporters.
In addition to local, state and federal offices, there were also ballot initiatives up for voter consideration in dozens of states, including a measure in California to legalize marijuana.
At polling places around the country, voters seemed divided. And yet, regardless of their personal views, some voters also expressed deep concern about the angry tone of political discourse these days and about the steep challenges facing the nation.
In downtown Des Moines, Vickie Quinones, 27, said she had been unemployed for two years and unable to find a job that would pay enough to cover the cost of childcare so that she could work.
In 2008, she voted for Mr. Obama. This year, after researching the candidates, she decided to support even more Democrats with the hope that the party will hold its majority in Congress.
“He hasn’t been there that long,” she explained, echoing the words of a number of other supporters. “Everyone criticizes but I don’t think he’s had enough time.”
In some races, the final tallies are not expected to be known for several days if not longer, particularly in the Alaska Senate race, where the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, is running as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary.
Still, the voting on Tuesday effectively caps what has been a bitterly fought and hugely expensive midterm election campaign — nearly $4 billion spent nationwide, according to some tallies — that to a large degree has become a referendum on the economy, Mr. Obama and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and an outlet of public frustration, with little focus on substantive issues beyond vague calls by many Republicans for smaller government and reduced spending.
Amid the voter frustration over the economy and continuing high unemployment, Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats found themselves struggling all year to take credit for the many legislative achievements of the past two years, including the economic stimulus program, the health care law and tougher financial regulation.
Republicans, meanwhile, were able to capitalize in the creeping sense among voters that government has grown too big and spent too much.
Reporting was contributed by Kevin Sack in Georgia, Katherine Q. Seelye in Wisconsin, Kim Severson in Ohio, A.G. Sulzberger in Iowa, and Jeff Zeleny and Dalia Sussman in New York.