(Updates with Republican Portman’s projected win in Ohio’s Senate race in third paragraph.)
Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Tea Party favorite Rand Paul in Kentucky gave Republicans an early victory as polls began closing in U.S. midterm elections shaped by voter anxiety over jobs and the economy.
Republicans also picked up a Senate seat in Indiana, with networks and the Associated Press projecting former Senator Dan Coats beating U.S. Representative Brad Ellsworth. Coats will replace Democrat Evan Bayh, who is retiring. As expected, Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina won re-election.
In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman beat Democratic Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher for the Senate seat vacated by Republican George Voinovich, who is retiring. Portman was the top international trade official under former President George W. Bush and also served as head of his budget office.
The Republicans may gain significant power in Washington after today’s vote, with analysts predicting the party will take control of the U.S. House and, at the least, narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate.
With polls showing Americans frustrated with the slow pace of economic recovery and the 9.6 percent unemployment rate, Republicans are expected to easily achieve the net gain of 39 seats needed to reach the majority in the 435-seat House. Pickups may exceed 50 seats.
In the Senate, the party may win up to nine seats, just shy of the 10 needed for a majority. And if all the close races break the Republican way, they may reach the majority mark.
“It’s going to be one of those elections that 10 to 15 years from now people look back and point to as a midterm bloodletting,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report. Voters “are just in a foul mood,” he said.
Paul, 47, was projected the winner in the Kentucky race by the television networks and AP within minutes of the polls closing in his state. An ophthalmologist who hasn’t held public office, his backing by Tea Party activists supporting limited government helped him win upset victory in Kentucky’s May Republican primary. He beat a competitor backed by the state’s party establishment, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Ron Paul’s Son
Paul is the son of U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who unsuccessfully sought the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Rand Paul won the Kentucky seat given up by the retiring Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican.
A Republican takeover of the House would break the Democratic control in Washington the party has enjoyed since President Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, forcing the administration to reshape its agenda.
The Democrats captured House and Senate control in the 2006 midterm elections, when Republican Bush was still in the White House.
Amid criticism of Obama’s domestic agenda, including health-care and economic-stimulus measures, Democratic losses in the House could top the 54 seats Republicans gained in their 1994 resurgence. The Democrats’ losses could be the deepest since the 1938 midterms, when the party lost 72 seats.
Republican control of either chamber would open the door to investigations of the Obama administration by new committee chairmen armed with subpoena power and the ability to influence policy on everything from the implementation of the new health- care law and overhaul of the U.S. financial-regulatory system.
Should Republicans win the House and gain seats in the Senate, companies from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to health insurer Wellpoint Inc. may gain support in efforts to undermine what they consider Obama’s anti-business policies on taxes, health care and financial regulation.
Exporters such as Caterpillar Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc. say a Republican-controlled House would be more likely to work with Obama to approve pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
The election has been the costliest non-presidential contest in U.S., with spending expected to reach $4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who’s in charge of the House Democrats’ re-election effort, told MSNBC that heavy turnout in the Philadelphia suburbs and the University of Virginia and too-few ballots in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are good signs for Democrats in key states and congressional districts.
Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the third-ranking House Republican, told MSNBC, “We’re very encouraged by some of the early returns.”
With polls on the West Coast closing late in the night and surveys showing that crucial races remain tight, final results may not be known for days. A three-way race sparked by the write-in campaign of incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska could delay results in that state for weeks. Counting of the write-in ballots, if necessary, won’t begin until Nov. 18, according to Gail Fenumiai, Alaska Division of Elections director.
Clear and sunny skies across much of the U.S. helped to boost voter turnout, according to state election officials in Connecticut, Ohio and Florida.
“Nobody’s been deterred from going out to the polls because of the weather,” said Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in an interview. She said voter turnout could be as high as 65 percent in the state.
Large areas of a high-pressure system kept most of the West, the Plains and the East Coast dry today, Tim Ballisty, an editorial meteorologist at the Weather Channel, wrote on its website.
The 77-degree sunshine has helped turnout in Florida, where races were being fought for Senate and governor, according to Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard in Hillsborough County and Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Stephens in Jackson County.
Stephens said she expects 55 to 60 percent turnout in Jackson County, where there are about 30,000 registered voters. She said she’s gotten more than 500 phone calls from people in the county asking where they can vote. “People are coming in with spaghetti strap tops on and the sun’s shining,” she said in an interview.
Democrats worked to get out their voters, hoping to stem losses for the party just two years after they celebrated Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president.
“This movement was never just about one election” Obama said in an e-mail to supporters today. “It was about building a movement for change that endures.” He added, “I need you to make sure your voice is heard.”
Obama repeated that message in an interview on a local Chicago radio station, saying a return to Republican control in Congress would be a step backward.
“Unemployment’s high and people, I think, unfortunately have forgotten how we got into this mess,” he said. “It is so important for everybody to go out and vote today.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces a challenge in his home state after helping Obama win Nevada by 12 percentage points two years ago.
A loss by Reid would kick off a leadership battle, with other Democratic senators vying to replace him as leader.
Similarly, a Republican takeover of the House may force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, to consider stepping aside as party leader, according to two House Democratic leadership aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
--With assistance from James Rowley, Jonathan Salant, Kristin Jensen, Kate Andersen Brower, Jeff Bliss, Laura Litvan, Traci McMillan, Nick Johnston and Brian Faler in Washington.
Editors: Don Frederick, Mark McQuillan.
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at email@example.com; Catherine Dodge in Washington at Cdodge1@bloomberg.net.
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