WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans picked up Senate seats in Indiana
and Arkansas and toppled House incumbents in three states in
midterm elections Tuesday night, early fruits of a drive to break
the Democrats' grip on power in Congress.
Tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in
Florida coasted to easy Senate victories, overcoming months of
withering Democratic attacks on their conservative views, but
Christine O'Donnell was trounced in Delaware.
All 435 seats in the House were on the ballot, plus 37 in the
Senate in an election shadowed by recession and stirred by a
rebellion of tea party conservatives.
An additional 37 governors' races gave Republicans ample
opportunity for further gains halfway through President Barack
House Republicans brimmed with confidence that they 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," he 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
But not long after she spoke, Democratic incumbents in both
houses began falling.
The first to go was Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, defeated
by Rep. John Boozman in her bid for a third term.
In the House, Republicans sent Rep. Rick Boucher to defeat in
Virginia; Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson in Florida, too. Virginia
Rep. Tom Perriello lost as well, despite a late-campaign appearance
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.
Republicans picked up their first Senate seat of the night -
they needed 10 for a majority - 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.
In next-door Ohio, former Bush administration official Rob
Portman held a Senate seat for the Republicans with ease.
In Kentucky, where Paul was making his first run for political
office, he prevailed over Democrat 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
Another tea party-backed candidate lost overwhelmingly,
suggesting the energy and enthusiasm provided by the conservative
activists came with a price.
Christine 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.
In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte won a Senate seat,
defeating Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes.
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.
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.
Republicans raced to leads for House seats in Democratic hands
in Indiana, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere.
In Virginia, Rep. Tom Perriello trailed his Republican rival
despite a late-campaign appearance by Obama.
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.
"This is going to be a big day," said House Minority Leader
John Boehner, who would be speaker in a new Republican majority, 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."
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
While 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
Republicans needed to pick up 40 seats to regain a House
majority they lost in 2006.
Less likely, a pickup of 10 would give them control of the
A Republican victory in either house 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.
Republicans assailed Democrats as puppets of Obama and, in the
House, of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. as well.
They pledged to cut taxes and federal spending in hopes of
revitalizing the economy and reining in deficits. They were
purposely vague with details, particularly on spending cuts, and
Democrats argued their true agenda was to privatize Social Security
and Medicare while eviscerating other programs.
In the Senate, Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and
Russell Feingold of Wisconsin were among the top GOP targets.
In a handful of states, tea party-backed Republicans who upset
establishment candidates in the primaries faced their final tests.
The roster included Paul in Kentucky, O'Donnell in Delaware, Rubio
in Florida, Ken Buck in Colorado, Joe Miller in Alaska and Sharron
Angle in Nevada, challenger to Majority Leader Harry Reid in a
state with 14.4 percent unemployment.
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 New York, Andrew Cuomo ran for the office
his father held for a dozen years.
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
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 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)