- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Democrats captured control of the House last night for the first time in more than a decade while control of the Senate remains up for grabs.

In early results, Democrats had stripped from Republicans at least 18 seats in the House, with at least nine more Republican seats in danger of takeover. The wins were three more than the 15 needed to win the chamber and set the stage for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to become the nation’s first female speaker of the House.

“We are on the brink of a great Democratic victory,” Mrs. Pelosi said last night.

In the Senate, Democrats captured three Republican seats but still needed to sweep the three seats still in doubt this morning — Virginia, Missouri and Montana — to take control.

Control of the Senate may turn on Virginia, where Republican Sen. George Allen stumbled badly and was virtually tied with James H. Webb Jr., a little-known Democrat who had raised hardly any money before Labor Day. In his speech last night, Mr. Allen said “this election continues” and reminisced about his first election victory, won on a recount.

Also, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill led Republican Sen. Jim Talent by fewer than 1,200 votes, with 74 percent of that state’s votes counted.

The Republican losses were the first electoral setback for President Bush since winning the White House six years ago. Both sides said Mr. Bush’s low popularity and voter anger over the war in Iraq were the leading contributors to Republican losses.

The biggest giant to fall last night was Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who is the Republican Conference chairman, his party’s No. 3 Senate post. He was felled by state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., the son of a popular former governor.

“This was just a little too steep a mountain to climb but it was not for want of people to help us climb it,” said Mr. Santorum, with his tearful family gathered around him, after early returns showed him about 20 percentage points behind.

Mr. Casey’s famous name and cautious campaign prevailed over the conservative Mr. Santorum in the reliably Democratic state. Conservative leaders last night mourned the loss of Mr. Santorum as one of their most devoted and effective champions.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, also denied Republican incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine re-election to a third term. Mr. Brown, a seven-term liberal in the House, rode a wave of anti-Republican sentiment in the state to easy victory last night. In Rhode Island, liberal Republican Sen. Lincoln Chaffee was projected to lose to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

The Republicans’ best hope for a pickup — Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in Maryland — was trailing in a close race. Republicans had dreamed of picking off Democratic held seats in New Jersey and Michigan, as well, but the states returned, respectively, Sens. Robert Menendez and Debbie Stabenow to the Senate.

In the House, Democrats needed to gain 15 seats to win control, which they will do but likely will have a relatively small majority.

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the deputy Republican whip who won overwhelming re-election last night, said the race wasn’t so much a mandate for Democrats as it was a message to Republicans.

“This is a message from the voters that we really need to step up and reclaim the mantle of reform that propelled us to power 12 years ago,” he said, citing the need to return the party to fiscal discipline and honest government.

Asked whether voters could expect a shake-up in House Republican leadership, Mr. Cantor said, “We got to let the dust settle.”

Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, was last night’s first casualty, losing a devastating defeat last night to conservative Democrat Brad Ellsworth in his maiden run for Congress. With over half of precincts reporting, Mr. Ellsworth had captured more than 60 percent of the vote. Republican Rep. Chris Chocola lost to lawyer Joe Donnelly.

In Kentucky, Democrat John Yarmuth picked off Republican Rep. Anne M. Northup in a close race. She was seeking her sixth term in Congress.

Republicans appeared to managed to contain fallout from the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley and the sexually explicit Internet messages that he sent to teenage boys he had met through the congressional page program, but in the end could not hold onto Mr. Foley’s Florida district. It was narrowly captured by Democrat Tim Mahoney, despite great efforts by Republicans.

Because of state election rules, Mr. Foley’s name could not be replaced with the new Republican candidate, Joe Negron. To smooth discomfort of voters having to still cast ballots for Mr. Foley, Republicans began a campaign with signs that read: “Punch Foley for Joe!”

But the only other race that was directly tied to the scandal, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, had pulled far ahead of his opponent in polls going into yesterday’s election.

Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican who was tied only tangentially to Mr. Foley as his friend, narrowly won re-election.

Republicans were far less successful at easing the damage caused by their association with former casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a scandal that earlier this year led to the resignation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and landed Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio with a 27-month prison sentence. Democrats captured both of those reliably Republican seats.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, was re-elected to the Senate for a fourth term after losing the Democratic nomination earlier this year to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont.

The Senate also got its first self-described socialist in Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who was easily elected to the seat being vacated by independent Sen. James M. Jeffords.

Republican operatives in Washington privately lamented last night having spent millions trying to salvage what they termed the year’s worst-run campaign. They said that money would have better spent on races in Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey.

Last night also saw the comfortable re-election of several political icons whose campaigns got very little press attention amid the din.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, won overwhelming re-elections to their ninth terms. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, also cruised to a second term with ease.

“I voted for change, except for me,” the former first lady said, casting her ballot in Chappaqua, N.Y.

Voter turnout nationwide was huge, with election officials from Connecticut to Tennessee saying the number of ballots cast was comparable to the number cast in a presidential election year. But there was no shortage of frustration at polling precincts, many of which were using electronic voting machines for the first time.

In Louisville, Ky., a poll worker was arrested after he was accused of choking a voter and pushing him out the door. In Allentown, Pa., a voter was accused of smashing a touch-screen voting machine with a paperweight. A Madison, Wis., polling site was closed briefly after a bomb threat was called in.

As expected, both sides began calling fouls early in the day yesterday.

In Virginia, the State Board of Elections asked the FBI to investigate a series of complaints about phone calls to Democratic voters that gave them the wrong polling-place information or told them that they couldn’t vote. In Michigan, Republican candidate for Senate Mike Bouchard reported that hackers had crashed his campaign Web site, which remained down through the end of the day.

Judges in Indiana and Ohio ordered polling stations that had reported problems to remain open last night to give voters more time to cast ballots.

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