As GOP rides wave to House majority, Dems defeat Tea Partiers to hold Senate
Presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (Pete Marovich/ZUMApress.com)
Pundits may differ over which natural disaster analogy was most fitting — tidal wave or earthquake? — but Republicans made large gains in both chambers of Congress and various statehouses across the country on election day. And while, at the time of writing, races in several key Western states were far from decided, the election night shaped up to be one of few surprises for either party. Republicans guaranteed themselves a majority in the House, while Democrats can rest assured that they’ll retain a majority in the Senate come 2011.
[Congress1] The evening began with quick victories for GOP Senate candidates Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida, raising expectations of a Tea Party-backed surge in Congress. Bellwether House races, including those of Rep. Barron Hill (D-Ind.), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), all went for their Republican challengers, causing pundits to revise their estimates for GOP House gains from the 50s up into the 60s, or perhaps higher.
Whether one voted for the Obama health care bill, like Rep. Tom Periello (D), or against it, like Rep. Glenn Nye (D), being a House Democrat in Virginia tonight ended up spelling doom and setting the tone for Democrats’ chances in House races across the country. Even veterans like Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C), chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, were not spared by the GOP wave that swept Southern and Midwestern Democrats. And while DCCC head Rep. Chris Van Hollen criticized the news networks for calling the House for the GOP early, a takeover quickly began to look inevitable.
While liberal Democrats like Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.) and Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) also lost their seats, groups that had backed them maintained that Democrats lost because they failed to fight and defend their liberal values. “Democrats lost because party leaders never truly fought for popular progressive reforms like the public option and breaking up the big banks, leaving voters uninspired to come to the polls and vote Democratic,” wrote Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green. “What the average voter saw of Democrats was weak, watered-down change — and weak Democratic leaders who cut deals with the very Wall Street banks and insurance companies they are supposed to be fighting.
On the Senate side, however, quick and decisive victories for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) over John Raese (R) in West Virginia and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) over Linda McMahon (R) in Connecticut allowed Democrats to breathe easy about their control of the upper chamber.
“Tomorrow starts the rebuilding, the road of rebuilding America,” Manchin told supporters in his victory speech. “We must start tomorrow. And I really believe that Washington can learn a few things and a few lessons from West Virginia.” What kind of Democrat Manchin will be after having to run so far to the right to win office remains a big open question for Democrats.
A solid defeat for Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, meanwhile, at the hands of Chris Coons (D) put Republican chances of taking the Senate nearly out of reach and revived questions about the efficacy of the Tea Party in aiding a GOP wave. “It gave me no pleasure to say that she was unlikely to win,” said Karl Rove after her loss became clear. “But this again provides a lesson. This is a candidate who was right on the issues but who had mishandled a series of questions brought up by the press.”
Likewise, a victory for the Democrats’ very vulnerable majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, over Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle confirmed the dangers of a Republican nomination process that often stressed ideological purity over electability.
Democratic Senate candidates Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois got off to strong starts in the polls with high turnout and early reporting from Philadelphia and Chicago, prompting talk of small but significant upsets for the Democrats in those races. But as the rural counties began reporting their tallies, Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk in Illinois eventually took control of both races. Likewise, Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, who shot out to an early lead over Ken Buck, fell slightly behind as more ballots were counted.
In the governors’ races, Democrats lost seats as well but managed to hang on to victories in close races in Colorado, where Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper held off his American Constitution Party challenger, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, and Minnesota, where Democrat Mark Dayton was the beneficiary of a three-way race and defeated Republican nominee Tom Emmer*. But in key races in other swing states — ones that President Obama will likely have to win to secure re-election in 2012 — Republicans can look forward to being in control. Rick Scott (R) rode the coattails of Rubio’s victory, defeating Alex Sink (D) in Florida, while the close race in Ohio never got close enough for incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who lost to challenger John Kasich (R).
As for the fate of the Tea Party, early decisive Senate wins for Paul and Rubio were offset by decisive drubbing of Christine O’Donnell and a narrow loss for Angle. In the House, Tea Party candidate Sean Bielat, who at one point looked to be posing a credible challenge to Rep. Barney Frank (D) in Massachusetts, lost by a wide margin — but enough Tea Party candidates claimed seats to form a sizable caucus in the next Congress.
Speaking at the Grand Hyatt Ballroom in Washington, likely House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was unable to hold back his tears. “Listen, I’ll be brief, because we have real work to do, and this is not a time for celebration,” he said, “not when one in 10 of our fellow citizens are out of work … not when we have buried our children under a mountain of debt … not when our Congress is held in such low esteem.
“While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people’s House, we must remember it is the president who sets the agenda for our government. The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight, and that message is: ‘change course.’ We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making the changes they are demanding. To the extent he is willing to do this, we are ready to work with him.”
*UPDATE: Democrat Mark Dayton continues to lead Republican Tom Emmer in the Minnesota Governor’s Race, but the margin is so slim that a recount appears likely.