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
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.
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)