Early Wednesday morning, Republicans appeared poised to pick up about 65 seats. They needed 39 to take control of the chamber.
Losses for the Democratic majority ranged from vulnerable freshmen elected on President Obama’s coattails, such as Rep. Tom Perriello (D) of Virginia, to popular Democratic veterans, such as 14-term House Budget chair Rep. John Spratt (D) of South Carolina and nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) of North Dakota. The latter two both won their last races with 62 percent of the vote.
Backed by strong conservative protest movements including the tea party, GOP candidates framed their campaigns as a rejection of the Obama agenda: bailouts, a $787 billion stimulus plan, sweeping health-care reform, and Wall Street regulation. Network exit polls signaled broad voter concerns over jobs and the economy and the president’s leadership.
“We’re witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people,” said Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, who is expected to be the next Speaker, in an emotional speech in Washington.
“For far too long Washington has been doing what’s best for Washington and not what’s best for the American people, and tonight that begins to change,” he added.
Democrats' last-ditch efforts
Democrats, expecting the tough races typical of a midterm elections for the president’s party, tried to build a financial firewall for incumbents and turn the race into a referendum on GOP failures of the Bush years. They also counted on a strong get-out-the-vote drive, backed by union activists. In the end, it wasn’t enough to beat back a Republican wave.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had promised her caucus that voters would come to appreciate health-care reform once they understood it, may face a leadership struggle if she opts to stay on as minority leader. In a statement, she praised her caucus for actions to “save the country from the worse economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.”
“The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward,” Speaker Pelosi said.
More than a dozen moderate Democrats repudiated her leadership during tough campaigns this season. Most will not be returning to the Congress. House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland, a likely prospect to replace Pelosi, praised those who had turned out to vote tonight. “We’re going to be listening to them,” he said.
Republican gains widespread
GOP gains spread out across the country.
In New England, where House Republicans had been driven to the point of extinction, GOP candidates won back two seats. Republicans swept both House seats and the Senate race in New Hampshire. Former Rep. Charlie Bass (R) of New Hampshire took back the seat he lost when Democrats took back the House in 2006. New England has not had a GOP representative in the House for the last four years.
But Democrats defended their lock of delegations in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island. Rep. Barney Frank (D), who led the drive for Wall Street reform in the House, loaned his campaign $200,000 when it appeared that the race might be tightening. He won with a comfortable margin, 54 to 43 percent over Republican Sean Bielat.
In the South, white Democrats were battered, including longtime incumbents. Maverick Rep. Gene Taylor, who voted against his party’s health-care reform, climate-change, and financial-regulation bills – and even against Pelosi as Speaker – was not spared. He conceded defeat to GOP state Rep. Steven Palazzo.
Freshman who backed their leadership on tough votes were especially hard-hit.
Reps. Kathy Dahhkemper (D) of Pennsylvania and John Boccieri (D) of Ohio both switched votes to give Pelosi a majority on health-care reform. They both lost their seats to Republican car dealers, Mike Kelly and Jim Renacci, who entered the race after their businesses were closed in the wake of the Obama administration’s auto bailout. (Mr. Kelly subsequently got the decision reversed on appeal.) The Republicans campaigned on reducing the reach of government into the affairs of small businesses and ending the uncertainty created by new big government programs and tax increases.
Ohio as microcosm
In the crucial swing state of Ohio, Republicans topped five incumbents, flipping the delegation from a 10 to 5 Democratic majority to a 13 to 8 GOP majority.
Former Reps. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s First Congressional District and Steve Stivers in the Fifteenth won back seats they narrowly lost in the Obama wave of 2008. Rep. Zack Space (D), who distanced himself from the Obama agenda in the campaign, also lost, as did Rep. Charlie Wilson, who came into the race with a strong fundraising advantage over GOP challenger Bill Johnson.
A revolution or 'rehabilitation'?
One of first House results announced Tuesday was the victory of GOP candidate Larry Bucshon in an open seat in Indiana’s Eighth Congressional District, called “the bloody eighth” – a seat majority House Democrats “stole” on a controversial floor vote in 1985. Resentment of that fueled the Republican insurgency that took back the House in 1994 for the first time in 42 years.
“Democrats had a defining majority at that time and the belief that Democrats would be in the majority forever. They stole an extra seat just because they could,” said former Rep. Dick Armey (R) of Texas, who helped lead the GOP insurgency that took back the House in 1994 and now backs tea party groups through FreedomWorks.
In an interview with the Monitor Tuesday, Armey said that the Tea Party movement is not a “takeover” of the House Republican Party, but rather a “rehabilitation.”