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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Democrats retake control of the House

Democrats won control of the House early Wednesday after a dozen years of Republican rule in a resounding repudiation of a war, a president and a scandal-scarred Congress. "From sea to shining sea, the American people voted for change," declared Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the hard-charging California Democrat in line to become the nation's first female House speaker. "Today we have made history," she said, "now let us make progress."

Democrats won control of the House early Wednesday after a dozen years of Republican rule in a resounding repudiation of a war, a president and a scandal-scarred Congress.

“From sea to shining sea, the American people voted for change,” declared Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the hard-charging California Democrat in line to become the nation’s first female House speaker.

“Today we have made history,” she said, “now let us make progress.”

Lameduck Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was elected to an 11th term, but several GOP officials said they expected him to step down as party leader and possibly even retire from Congress.

The White House made plans for President Bush to call the speaker-in-waiting, Pelosi, first thing in the morning; he will enter his final two years in office with at least half of Congress in the opposition party’s hands.

“It’s been kind of tough out there,” Hastert said. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow observed: “It’s not like a slap on the forehead kind of shock.”

By 4 a.m. Wednesday, Democrats had won 228 seats, enough for control, and were leading for another 4, which would give them 232. Republicans, who hold 229 seats in the current House, won 191 and were leading in another 12, which would give them 203.

Democrats had captured 27 Republican-controlled seats, and no Democratic incumbent had lost thus far. Races were too close to call in more than a dozen seats, making it impossible to determine exactly how large the Democratic margin would be.

Still, 2006 already was an eerie reversal of 1994, when the GOP gained 54 seats in a wave that toppled Democrats after four decades. No Republican incumbent lost that year.

This time, Republicans fell from power in nearly every region of the country — conservative, liberal and moderate — as well as in every type of district — urban, rural and suburban. Exit polls showed middle class voters who fled to the GOP a dozen years ago appeared to return to the Democrats.

Casualties of a Democratic call for change, three GOP congressmen lost in Indiana, three more in Pennsylvania, two in New Hampshire, one in North Carolina, one in Kansas, one in California and more elsewhere. Democrats won open seats, which were held by Republicans, in New York, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa and Texas.

Scandals that have dogged Republicans appeared to hurt GOP incumbents even more than Bush’s unpopularity and the nearly four-year-old war in Iraq.

Republicans surrendered the Texas seat of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who left the House after being charged in a campaign finance scheme, the Ohio seat once held by Bob Ney, who resigned after pleading guilty in a lobbying scandal, and the Florida district of Mark Foley, who stepped down after the disclosure that he sent sexually explicit messages to male congressional pages.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats defeated Curt Weldon in the fallout from a federal corruption investigation and Don Sherwood who admitted to a long-term affair with a much younger woman who says he choked her.

“Today the American people voted for change and they voted for Democrats to take their country in a new direction, and that is exactly what we intend to do,” Pelosi, who won an 11th term, told several hundred people celebrating in a Washington hotel ballroom.

A grandmother five times over, Pelosi vowed to restore integrity, civility and honesty to Capitol Hill and said: “Democrats promise to work together in a bipartisan way for all Americans.”

As her remarks ended, U2’s “Beautiful Day” blared and red, white and blue confetti drifted from above.

“You have given us a chance to turn this country around, and we’ll give you the government that no longer lets you down.” Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the head of the Democrats’ House campaign, told the crowd.

Ethics woes, the war and overall anger toward Bush appeared to drive voters to the Democrats, according to surveys by The Associated Press and the television networks of voters as they left voting places. Several traditionally hard-fought demographic groups were choosing Democrats, including independents, moderates, and suburban women.

Those exit polls also showed that three in four voters said corruption was very important to their vote, and they tended to vote Democratic. In a sign of a dispirited GOP base, most white evangelicals said corruption was very important to their vote — and almost a third of them turned to the Democrats.

Two out of three voters called the war very important to them and said they leaned toward the Democrats, while six in ten voters said they disapproved of the war. About the same number said they were dissatisfied with the president — and they were far more likely to vote Democratic.

Additionally, eight in ten voters called the economy very important to their House vote, and those who said it was extremely important — about four in ten voters — turned to Democrats.

All 435 House seats were on the ballot, and most incumbents won easy re-election. The current lineup: 229 Republicans, 201 Democrats, one independent who lines up with the Democrats for organizational purposes, and four vacancies, three of them in seats formerly held by Republicans.

The fight for control came down to 50 or so seats, nearly half in a swath from Connecticut through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. All were in Republican hands, a blend of seats coming open and incumbents in trouble.

For months, national surveys showed Democrats favored over Republicans by margins unseen since 1990 as voters grew restless with the Bush administration and seemed more ready to end one-party rule on Capitol Hill.

American casualties and costs climbed in Iraq, and public support for the war fell, as did approval ratings for Congress along with the president.

Scandals dogged the ruling party as well.

DeLay, R-Texas, was charged with participating in a campaign finance scheme and resigned from the House. Ney, R-Ohio, resigned, too, after pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation. A month before the election, Foley, R-Fla., left office when it was disclosed that he had sent sexually explicit electronic communications to male, former congressional pages.

Through it all, Democrats cast the race as a national referendum on Bush and Iraq, accusing Republicans of walking in lockstep with the president and rubber stamping his policies.

Republicans insisted the elections came down to choices between individual candidates from coast to coast — and that Democrats were liberals who would raise taxes, flee from Iraq and be soft on terrorists.

Initially, Democrats targeted GOP-held seats left open by retiring Republicans as well as districts where Bush won by close margins in 2004 — many in the Northeast and Midwest. In recent weeks, Democrats were able to expand the battlefield, mounting plays for seats long in Republican hands, such as in Wyoming and Idaho.

The GOP made serious bids for only a handful of Democratic-held seats, including two districts in Georgia that the Republican legislature redrew to make more hospitable to the GOP. The only two endangered Democrats appeared to be in those districts, where the vote totals were so close the races appeared to be headed to recounts.

One of the Democratic victories was in Louisiana, where scandal-tarred Rep. William Jefferson was forced into a runoff against another Democrat.

Along with elections for the next Congress, there were two contests to fill vacancies for the remaining few months of this Congress.

Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs will fill DeLay’s unexpired term in the Houston suburbs, but only until DeLay’s successor, Democrat Nick Lampson, is sworn in come January. And in New Jersey, Democrat Albio Sires will be seated early as a replacement for Bob Menendez who left his House seat for the Senate.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press