Democrats take House, Senate up for Grabs
WASHINGTON – Democrats swept Republicans out of power in the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate, riding to victory on a wave of public discontent with the Iraq war, corruption and President George W. Bush’s leadership.
Two years after a decisive election victory for Bush and his Republicans, Democrats picked up at least the 15 seats they needed to win control of the House for the first time since 1994, according to TV network projections.
The win is likely to slam the brakes on Bush’s legislative agenda in his final two years, make Democrat Nancy Pelosi the first female Speaker of the House and give Democrats a chance to investigate his administration’s most controversial policy decisions such as the war in Iraq.
Democrats also picked up three of the six Republican Senate seats they need for control — in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Ohio — and held their own threatened Senate seats in New Jersey and Maryland.
But Republicans led tight races in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia that were crucial to Democratic hopes of winning the Senate. Returns were just beginning to come in on the other contested race in Montana.
All 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats and 36 governorships were at stake in the elections and Democrats had to pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to take control of both chambers.
In Texas, the nation’s best-known governor Republican Gov. Rick Perry, won re-election. He fended off challengers including musician and writer Kinky Friedman and in California Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican too, easily won re-election. The former action star defeated Democrat Phil Angelides, the state treasurer.
— In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey Jr. defeated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate and one of the Democrats’ biggest targets this year.
— Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine was beaten by Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, while Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee lost his re-election bid.
— Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, running as an independent, beat Democratic anti-war challenger Ned Lamont, who had defeated the former vice presidential nominee in the Democratic primary.
— Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sailed to an easy re-election win in New York.
— Republican Sen. George Allen narrowly led Democrat James Webb in Virginia and Republican Bob Corker led Democrat Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee. Democrats needed to win at least one of those seats to take control of the Senate.
“I think we will hold control of the Senate,” Republican Party chief Ken Mehlman said on CNN.
In House races in Indiana, Republican incumbents John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel all lost. Incumbents also lost in Kentucky, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
A Democratic victory in either house gives the party control of legislative committees that could investigate the Bush administration’s most controversial decisions on foreign, military and energy policy.
CORRUPTION, ETHICS BIG FOR VOTERS
Early exit polls showed voters disapproved of the war in Iraq by a large margin, but more voters said corruption and ethics were extremely important to their vote than other issues including the war, CNN said.
“I think this is because many of our voters began to believe we value power over principle,” Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on Fox.
In a campaign dominated by Iraq, Bush defended his handling of the war to the end, despite job approval ratings mired in the mid-30s. He questioned what Democrats would do differently and predicted Republicans would retain control of Congress.
“There’s not a lot we can do to actually force the president to leave Iraq, but ultimately we can have some influence and I think you’ll see certainly an attempt by Democrats to change the direction,” Democratic Party chief Howard Dean told CNN.
History was with the Democrats — the party holding the White House traditionally loses seats in a president’s sixth year.