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Democrats sweep
to power in House; Senate hangs in balance

Democrats sweep
to power in House; Senate hangs in balance

Americans on Tuesday delivered a rebuke to President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress, sweeping Democrats to power in the House for the first time in a dozen years and dismantling most if not all of the Republican Senate majority. The battles for Senate seats in Virginia and Montana were coming down to the last votes counted Wednesday, and Democrats needed to win both to shape a majority and complete their grip on legislative power. A potential Virginia recount could prolong the suspense. While those races remain inconclusive, the voters' majority verdict was clear. The election amounted to a repudiation of the Republican Party, which has been marked by scandal in recent years, with a succession of tainted lawmakers losing seats as their leaders lost power, and a stinging referendum on the course of the Iraq war and the nation. Setting a standard by which her party will be judged in elections two years from now, speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi promised: ''Democrats intend to lead the most honest, the most open, and the most ethical Congress in history.'' The California Democrat was on the cusp of making history herself, as the first female leader of the House. President Bush called her Wednesday morning to congratulate her. Democratic senator Hillary Rodham Clinton coasted to a second term in New York, winning roughly 70% of the vote in a warm-up to a possible run for the White House in 2008. In a comeback unlike any other, Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrats' 2000 vice-presidential candidate, who was rebuffed in the primary election by his party's voters, many of whom cited their discontent with his backing of Bush's war policy, won a new term in Connecticut as an independent candidate, dispatching Democrat Ned Lamont. Lieberman, however, has said he will caucus with the Democrats in the Senate. Democrats took 20 of 36 gubernatorial races to give themselves a majority of top state jobs--28--for the first time in a dozen years. New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland, and Arkansas all switched to the Democratic column. California's movie star governor, Austrian-born Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, easily won reelection. Republicans also hung on to Florida's governorship, with Charlie Crist prevailing in a race to succeed Bush's brother Jeb, and Bob Corker won a closely watched Senate contest in Tennessee, denying Democrat Harold Ford Jr.'s bid to become the first black U.S. senator from the South in more than a century. On social issues, conservatives suffered a couple of setbacks. South Dakota voters rejected the toughest abortion law in the land, a measure that would have outlawed the procedure under almost any circumstance. And Arizona, usually known for its conservative stance, became the first state to reject a proposal to ban same-sex marriage. Seven other states adopted bans on same-sex marriage, however, joining 20 other states that have adopted such laws. Overall, it was a night the Republicans wished they could forget. For a two-term president who has led with Senate and House control for most of his time in office, easing the way for his tax cuts and war policy, it was an unfamiliar dose of defeat. The best face his spokesman could put on it was that some people saw it coming. It was not ''a slap-on-the-forehead kind of shock,'' Tony Snow said. Of the results, he said: ''They have not gone the way he would have liked.'' Control of the Senate came down to two races once considered safely Republican, until the Democratic wave gathered to capitalize on gaffes by the two Republican candidates. In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, claimed victory Wednesday with a lead of fewer than 12,000 votes out of more than 2.3 million cast. But with four precincts left to be counted and margins tight enough for a possible recount, incumbent senator George Allen was not conceding. Allen, a former Virginia governor, had struggled for months to get his campaign back on stride after he used the obscure racial slur ''macaca'' to introduce a man of Indian descent at an all-white rally. In Montana, three-term senator Conrad Burns narrowly trailed Democrat Jon Tester in a contest that officials said would not be settled until later Wednesday because of voting machine problems in Yellowstone County. Burns, 71, first elected in 1988 as a folksy, backslapping outsider, came under siege as a top recipient of campaign contributions from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He did himself no favors, either, when he confronted members of a wildfire-fighting team and accused them of doing a bad job. Across the country, voters expressed exasperation with the criminal convictions and the investigations--plus the recent sexual e-mail scandal--that have befallen Congress over the past two years. In surveys conducted at polling places, three out of four voters said corruption and scandalous behavior in Congress made them more likely to vote Democratic. Also in surveys, about six in 10 voters said they disapproved of the Iraq war, and only a third of those surveyed believed it had improved long-term security in the United States. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, echoed Pelosi, saying the election shows ''we must change course in Iraq.'' More broadly, he said, Americans ''have come to the conclusion, as we did some time ago, that a one-party town simply doesn't work.'' Without losing any seats of their own, Democrats captured 27 Republican-held seats and were leading in two more races, assuring them solid control 12 years after a Republican rout brought a new generation of conservatives to office

Indiana was particularly cruel to House Republicans. Congressmen John Hostettler, Chris Chocola, and Mike Sodrel all lost in a state where Republican governor Mitch Daniels' unpopularity compounded dissatisfaction with Bush.

One of the biggest surprises of the night was Republican congressman Jim Leach's defeat in Iowa after a career that spanned 30 years. He lost to Dave Loebsack, a college professor making his first run for elective office. Both the Democratic and Republican parties spent lavishly on television commercials in dozens of districts deemed competitive, but not that one. Republicans also lost the seat that Congressman Mark Foley had held. He resigned on September 29 after being confronted with sexually explicit computer messages he had written to teenage congressional assistants. Congressman Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania lost after having apologized to the voters for a long-term affair with a much younger woman; and Congressman Curt Weldon, from the same state, was denied a new term after he became embroiled in a corruption investigation. The Republicans also lost the Texas seat once held by former majority leader Tom DeLay. Surveys of voters suggested Democrats were winning 60% of the independent vote, and middle-class voters were also largely leaving Republicans behind.

Democrats also defeated four Republican incumbents in the Senate--Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Jim Talent in Missouri, and Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island--who ranged from conservative to moderate.

About six in 10 voters said the nation is on the wrong track and that they disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job. Voters in all groups surveyed were more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republicans. Over half of the voters registered dissatisfaction with the way Republican leaders in Congress dealt with Foley. They voted overwhelmingly Democratic in House races, by a margin of three to one. The surveys were taken by the Associated Press and other media networks. History, too, worked against the Republicans. Since World War II, the party in control of the White House has lost an average of 31 House seats and six Senate seats in the second midterm election of a president's tenure in office. Among the Republican losers, Hostettler, Santorum, and DeWine all first won their seats in 1994, the year Republicans grabbed control of the House and Senate from Democrats, launching the Republican revolution. ''It's very hard to watch,'' lamented Dick Armey, who was House majority leader in those heady Republican days. (Calvin Woodward, AP)

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