Republicans take House in landslide, Democrats hold Senate (Second Lead)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WASHINGTON - Republicans were projected to win control of the US House of Representatives in a landslide congressional election Tuesday that dealt a major blow to President Barack Obama just two years into his term in office.

But while the centre-right party also made major inroads in the 100-member Senate, Obama’s left-leaning party was projected to maintain a slim majority in the upper legislative chamber.

All 435 seats in the House and 37 seats in the Senate were up for grabs Tuesday as well as 37 governorships and many state and local positions.

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives marks the first time the party will control one of the two US chambers of Congress since 2006.

The party appeared ready to gain well more than the 39 seats needed to control the 435-member lower chamber. With many votes yet to be counted, US media projections showed the party capturing anywhere from 44 to 60 seats.

The last major landslide in a mid-term election came in 1994, when Republicans recaptured both the House and Senate just two years into former president Bill Clinton’s term. Conservatives gained 54 House seats in that election.

Tuesday’s victory will likely make Republican John Boehner the speaker of the House and the third most powerful politician in the country.

“The American people have sent an unmistakeable message to (Obama) tonight, and that message is ‘change course’,” Boehner said at a victory rally in the Republican Party’s headquarters in Washington.

The Republican victories have come on the back of intense voter frustration at Obama’s handling of the economy and an unemployment rate that still sits at 9.6 percent. Initial exit polls found that the still-sluggish US economy was the top concern for 62 percent of voters, according to pollster John Zogby.

Republicans, needing to gain 10 seats to win control of the Senate, picked up at least three seats held by Democrats in Indiana, Arkansas and Wisconsin, projections showed.

The party also held onto contested Senate seats in Florida and Kentucky, two early victories for the grassroots Tea Party movement that arose out of anger against Obama’s policies and energised the conservative base.

“We’ve come to take our government back,” said Kentucky’s Rand Paul, a Tea Party favourite who defeated Democrat Jack Conway in the state’s Senate race.

In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio was projected to win over sitting Governor Charlie Crist, a former Republican who launched an independent campaign for the Senate seat, and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

But Democrats did manage to hold on to some key Senate seats that left them in control of the upper chamber of Congress, even with a much smaller majority.

West Virginia’s sitting Governor Joe Manchin was projected to defeat Republican business magnate John Reese in the tight Senate race, overcoming Obama’s deep unpopularity in the working-class state with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Democrats also kept Senate seats that had once been deemed competitive in California and Connecticut. In Delaware, Chris Coons defeated Tea Party-backed Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell, holding the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden.

In a last-minute bid to stem the losses, Obama made a round of radio interviews and sent out First Lady Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton on the campaign trail.

“I want everyone to remember that you can’t shape your future if you don’t participate,” Obama said on a radio show of Ryan Seacrest. “You’ve got to get out there and vote.”

With many neck-and-neck races across the country and ballots counted across six time zones, it was likely be a long night before the full results were known. Some races could take days to sort out.

The Republican Party’s takeover of the House, together with the Tea Party’s uncompromising stance on most political issues, has many predicting legislative gridlock during Obama’s next two years in office leading up to the 2012 presidential elections.

Polls have shown major dissatisfaction with incumbents from both parties, with approval of Congress sitting below 20 percent. “Dump incumbents” signs peppered the streets in and around Washington.

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