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Tea Time: GOP Nears House Control, Piling up Wins

Tuesday, 02 Nov 2010 09:55 PM

 

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WASHINGTON — Resurgent Republicans piled up gains in close pursuit of a House majority Tuesday night and added seats in the Senate, too, in midterm elections shadowed by recession and fueled by a rebellion of tea party conservatives.

"We've come to take our government back," Sen.-elect Rand Paul told cheering supporters at a victory party in Bowling Green, Ky.

Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas lost her seat, and House members in Florida, Indiana, and Virginia were among the Republicans' victims. First-term Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia was a casualty despite a late-campaign appearance on his behalf by President Barack Obama.

On a good night for Republicans, Paul and tea party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida coasted to easy Senate victories, overcoming months of withering Democratic attacks on their conservative views. But Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware.

Despite the Republicans' gains, a Senate majority seemed out of reach.

But the GOP brimmed with confidence that it would pick up the 40 seats needed to take control of the House and install Rep. John Boehner as the new speaker.

"This is going to be a big day," Boehner said as he voted near his home in West Chester, Ohio. For those who think the government is spending too much and bailing out too many, he said, "This is their opportunity to be heard."

Democrats conceded nothing. "Let's go out there and continue to fight," Speaker Nancy Pelosi exhorted supporters in remarks before television cameras while the polls were still open in much of the country.

But not long after she spoke, Democratic incumbents in both houses began falling.

The first to go was Lincoln, who lost to Rep. John Boozman in her bid for a third term.

In the House, Republicans sent Rep. Rick Boucher and Perriello to defeat in Virginia; Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson in Florida, too.

With the polls still open in much of the country, Republicans led for three dozen seats now in Democratic hands.

Interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties and the federal government.

About four in 10 voters said they were worse off financially than two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and pre-election surveys. More than one in three said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama, but more than half expressed negative views about both political parties. Roughly 40 percent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement. By contrast, about three in four expressed negative views about the federal government. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.

The preliminary findings were based on Election Day and pre-election interviews with more than 9,000 voters.

All 435 seats in the House were on the ballot, plus 37 in the Senate. An additional 37 governor races gave Republicans ample opportunity for further gains halfway through Obama's term, although Andrew Cuomo was elected in New York for the office his father once held.

Republicans picked up their first Senate seat of the night in Indiana, where former Sen. Dan Coats easily dispatched Rep. Brad Ellsworth to win back the seat he voluntarily gave up a dozen years ago.

Boozman's victory was their second, and Gov. John Hoeven added a third, winning a seat held by a retiring Democrat in North Dakota.

But Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin won in West Virginia for the unexpired portion of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's term, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was victorious in Connecticut, dispatching Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Paul's triumph in Kentucky completed an improbable rise for an eye surgeon who drew opposition from the Republican Party establishment when he first launched his bid, then struggled to adjust to a statewide race with Attorney General Jack Conway.

Rubio, also running with tea party support, was gaining about 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race in Florida, months after he forced Gov. Charlie Crist to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent. Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek was running third.

Another tea party-backed candidate lost overwhelmingly, suggesting that the energy and enthusiasm of the conservative activists came with a price.

O'Donnell, who went from a virtual unknown to primary winner to fodder for late-night comedians in the span of a few months, lost to Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. It was a seat long in Democratic hands that Republicans had nevertheless virtually counted as their own this year, but that was before O'Donnell defeated veteran Rep. Mike Castle in a September primary.

Not all the Republican newcomers were party crashers.

In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte won a Senate seat, defeating Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes. Former Bush administration official Rob Portman won a seat in Ohio, and Rep. Jerry Moran in Kansas.

In a year of turmoil, there were incumbent senators in both parties who won with ease.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was re-elected to his seventh term and Barbara Mikulski, her fifth. New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also won.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who won a second term in South Carolina, has been working to establish a nationwide standing among conservatives. He was instrumental in supporting tea party challengers in several primaries this spring and summer at a time the GOP establishment was backing other candidates.

In Alabama, Sen. Richard Shelby was re-elected easily, as were Republican Sens. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma, Richard Burr in North Carolina, John Thune in South Dakota, and Johnny Isakson in Georgia.

Despite the national trend, the first House seat to change hands was in Delaware — and it went to the Democrats. There, John Carney easily won the seat that was Castle's for nearly two decades.

The president gave a series of radio interviews pleading with Democratic supporters not to sit on the sidelines. "I know things are still tough out there, but we finally have job growth again," he said in one. "It is all at risk if people don't turn out and vote today."

Although Obama's name was not on the ballot, his record and policies were. After nearly two years in power, he and congressional Democrats were saddled politically with ownership of an economy that was barely growing, 9.6 percent unemployment, a high rate of home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, the residue of the worst recession since the 1930s.

"I will honestly say that I voted for him two years ago," said Sally McCabe, 56, of Plymouth, Minn., stopping to cast her ballot on her way to work. "And I want my vote back."

In Cleveland, Tim Crews, 42, said he measures Obama's performance by the number of paying miles he drives in his delivery van. His miles have tripled to 9,000 a month. Crews said of the economy: "It's moving. I know, because I'm moving it." He voted accordingly.

Republicans needed to pick up 40 seats to regain a House majority they lost in 2006.

A Republican victory there would usher in an era of divided government, complicate Obama's ability to enact his proposals over the next two years and possibly force him to fight off attacks on health care legislation and other bills he has signed into law.

Some of the biggest states elected governors, including California, where Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr., collided with Meg Whitman in his attempted return to the office he left more than a quarter-century ago.

In one of the year's marquee races, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland faced a strong challenge from former Rep. John Kasich in his bid for a new term in Ohio.

With so many contested races, and a Supreme Court ruling removing restrictions on political activity by corporations and unions, the price tag for the elections ran to the billions.

Much of the money paid for television advertisements that attacked candidates without letup, the sort of commercials that voters say they disdain but that polls find are effective.

Obama traveled to 14 states in the final month, some twice, in a bid to rekindle the enthusiasm of the young voters, liberals, blacks and independents whose ballots propelled him to the White House.

Not that Republicans didn't have problems of their own as the campaign began. Their candidate recruitment was aimed at filling spots on the ballot with well-known, experienced office holders.

The voters had other ideas, and made it clear quickly. In the first of a series of shock waves, tea party rebels dumped conservative three-term Sen. Bob Bennett at Utah's Republican convention in May.

By the time the primaries were finished, six incumbents had fallen in both parties and both houses.

Senate Republicans made their peace with the rebels, necessary if they were to harness their energy for the fall campaign. They worked to soften the edges of candidates who had advocated politically risky cuts in federal programs, questioned the wisdom of civil rights laws or doubted the separation of church and state.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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