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Democrats Completed Improbable Election Sweep Of Congress


WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats completed an improbable
double-barreled election sweep of Congress on Wednesday, taking
control of the Senate with a victory in Virginia as they padded
their day-old majority in the House.
"The days of the do-nothing Congress are over," declared
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, in line to become majority
leader. "In Iraq and here at home, Americans have made clear they
are tired of the failures of the last six years."
Jim Webb's victory over Sen. George Allen in Virginia assured
Democrats of 51 seats when the Senate convenes in January. That
marked a gain of six in midterm elections in which the war in Iraq
and President Bush were major issues.
Earlier, State Sen. Jon Tester triumphed over Republican Sen.
Conrad Burns in a long, late count in Montana.
With a handful of House races too close to call, Democrats had
gained 28 seats, enough to regain the majority after 12 years of
Republican rule and place Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in line
to become the first female speaker in history.
"It was a thumping," Bush conceded at the White House. "It's
clear the Democrat Party had a good night."
Allen's campaign issued a statement noting that state officials
are conducting a canvass of the votes cast in Tuesday's balloting.
"At the conclusion of those efforts, Senator George Allen plans
to make a statement regarding the outcome," it said.
The Senate had teetered at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans for most
of Wednesday, with Virginia hanging in the balance. Webb's victory
ended Republican hopes of eking out a 50-50 split, with Vice
President Dick Cheney wielding tie-breaking authority.
The Associated Press contacted election officials in all 134
localities in Virginia where voting occurred, obtaining updated
numbers Wednesday. About half the localities said they had
completed their postelection canvassing and nearly all had counted
outstanding absentees. Most were expected to be finished by Friday.
The new AP count showed Webb with 1,172,538 votes and Allen with
1,165,302, a difference of 7,236. Virginia has had two statewide
vote recounts in modern history, but both resulted in vote changes
of no more than a few hundred votes.
It had been clear for weeks leading up to the election that
Democrats were strongly positioned to challenge Republicans for
House control.
But Democrats began the year with fewer seats than at any time
since Herbert Hoover occupied the White House. Even Reid, the
Senate's party leader, mused aloud at one point that it might take
a miracle to capture Senate control.
"From changing course in Iraq to raising the minimum wage to
fixing the health care crisis to making this country energy
independent, we're ready to get to work," he said in a statement
late Wednesday.
Earlier, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., all but certain to become
the next minority leader, said: "In the Senate, the minority is
never irrelevant unless it falls down into the very small numbers.
I don't think, as a practical matter, it's going to make a whole
lot of difference in the Senate, being at 49."
Webb's win capped a banner election year for Democrats, who
benefited from the voters' desire to issue a searing rebuke of the
status quo.
The president, who spoke of spending his political capital after
his successful re-election two years ago, acknowledged, "As the
head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the
responsibility."
With power on Capitol Hill tilting, Bush announced that Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats have
demanded.
The war in Iraq, scandals in Congress and declining support for
Bush and Republicans on Capitol Hill defined the battle for House
and Senate control, with the public embracing the Democrats' call
for change to end a decade of one-party rule in Washington.
"This new Democratic majority has heard the voices of the
American people," said Pelosi, adding that Americans placed their
trust in Democrats. "We will honor that trust. We will not
disappoint."
With the GOP booted from power, lame-duck Speaker Dennis
Hastert, R-Ill., announced he will not run for leader of House
Republicans when Democrats take control in January.
"Obviously I wish my party had won," Hastert said in a
statement that added he intends to return to the "full-time task"
of representing his Illinois constituents.
In the Senate, Democrats soundly defeated Republicans in Ohio,
Missouri, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. The battle for Senate
power came down to Virginia and Montana - and vote counts for those
stretched into Wednesday.
By midday, Tester rode to victory over Burns, a three-term
senator whose campaign was shadowed by a series of missteps and his
ties to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist at the center of an
influence-peddling investigation.
"One hundred thousand miles and 15 hours later, here we did
it," said Tester, an organic farmer with a flattop haircut who
lost three fingers in a meat grinder.
In Virginia, Webb, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan,
declared victory, began to set a transition team in motion and
called himself senator-elect. Allen, a swaggering cowboy
boot-wearing former Virginia governor who favors football
metaphors, refused to concede and waited to make a move until after
the completion of the county-by-county canvassing.
Overall, Republicans lost ground with swing voters such as
Catholics, independents, Hispanics and suburbanites, according to
exit polls conducted for the AP and the television networks. The
GOP held its conservative base, but Democrats made inroads with
moderates.
"We came to Washington to change government and government
changed us," lamented Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., his eye on the
next election in 2008. "We departed rather tragically from our
conservative principles."
In the House, Democrats won 230 seats and led in two races,
while Republicans won 196 seats and led in seven races. If current
trends hold, Democrats would have a 232-203 majority.
Without losing any seats of their own, Democrats captured 28
GOP-held seats. The party won in every region of the country and
hoped to strengthen their majority by besting Republican incumbents
in races that were too close to call.
Putting another notch in the Democratic column on Wednesday,
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a freshman, lost his
re-election bid to Democrat Patrick Murphy, a decorated Iraq war
veteran, by about 1,500 votes.
In Ohio, Rep. Deborah Pryce, the No. 4-ranking Republican in the
House, struggled to fend off a fierce challenge from Democrat Mary
Jo Kilroy in Columbus, and GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who famously
suggested that a decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam named John
Murtha was a coward, faced the possibility of defeat in her
southern Ohio district. Both were leading but the final tallies
were complicated by provisional and absentee ballots.
Republican incumbents also were slightly ahead in four other
states but those margins were too tight to declare a winner. They
were GOP Reps. Heather Wilson in New Mexico, Robin Hayes in North
Carolina, Dave Reichart in Washington and Barbara Cubin in Wyoming.
In Connecticut, Democrat Joe Courtney sought to hang on to a
minuscule 170-vote lead over Rep. Rob Simmons in a race that
appeared headed for an automatic recount.
Elsewhere, Texas GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla was headed to a December
runoff against Democrat Ciro Rodriguez because the congressman got
only 48 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate field. He needed
50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Aside from gains in Congress, Democrats took 20 of 36 governors'
races to give them a majority of top state jobs - 28 - for the
first time in a dozen years. Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland,
Massachusetts, New York and Ohio went into the Democratic column.
Democrats also gained a decisive edge in state legislatures,
taking control of several and solidifying their hold on others.
With the wins, Democrats will be in a better position to shape
state policy agendas and will play a key role in drawing
congressional districts.
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EDITOR'S NOTE - Liz Sidoti reported from Washington and Bob
Lewis from Richmond, Va.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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