Democrats challenging for control of Congress

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— Resurgent Democrats swept toward control of the House and grabbed Republican Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island Tuesday in midterm elections shaped by an unpopular war in Iraq and scandal at home.

Aided by public dissatisfaction with President Bush, Democrats won gubernatorial races in New York, Ohio and Massachusetts for the first time in more than a decade and added Colorado to their control.

Charlie Crist was a bright spot for Republicans, keeping the Florida governorship now held by the president's brother Jeb in GOP hands.

By 11 p.m. EST in the East, Democrats had picked up 16 House seats in Republican hands. They needed 15 to end a long turn in the minority, and a final result would depend on dozens of races yet uncalled.

A loud cheer went up in a Washington D.C., hotel ballroom a few blocks from the Capitol where Democrats had gathered in hopes of celebrating an end to a dozen years in the minority.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California - in line to become the first woman speaker in history if her party wins control - said early in the evening, as the returns rolled in, "We are on the brink of a great Democratic victory."

With the polls still open in the West, Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman conceded nothing about the House. "I think we will hold control of the Senate," he added.

In a comeback unlike any other, Sen. Joe Lieberman won a new term in Connecticut - dispatching Democrat Ned Lamont and thus winning when it counted most against the man who had prevailed in a summertime primary. Lieberman, a supporter of Bush's war policy, ran as an independent, but will side with the Democrats when he returns to Washington.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton coasted to a second Democratic term in New York, winning roughly 70 percent of the vote in a warm-up to a possible run for the White House in 2008.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania became the first Republican senator to fall to the Democrats, losing his seat after two conservative terms to Bob Casey Jr., the state treasurer.

In Ohio, Sen. Mike DeWine lost to Rep. Sherrod Brown, a liberal seven-term lawmaker.

Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the most liberal Republican in the Senate and an opponent of the war, fell not long afterward to Sheldon Whitehouse, former state attorney general.

That left a fistful of heavily contested races uncalled.

In Virginia, Republican Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb were locked in a seesaw race, neither man able to break ahead of the other.

In Tennessee, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker held a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., campaigning to become the first black senator from the South in more than a century.

In Missouri, Sen. Jim Talent held a lead over Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill with nearly 25 percent of the precincts counted.

Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, seeking a fourth term, battled Democrat Jon Tester.

Indiana was particularly cruel to House Republicans. Reps. John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel all lost in a state where Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' unpopularity compounded the dissatisfaction with Bush.

Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson lost in her bid for a 13th term in Connecticut; Anne Northup fell in Kentucky after 10 years in the House; and Rep. Charles Taylor was defeated in North Carolina.

Scandal likely cost Republicans a seat in Ohio, where Demorat Zack Space won the race to succeed Bob Ney, who pleaded guilty to corruption this fall in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Among the GOP losers, Hostettler, Santorum and DeWine all won their seats in the Republican landslide of 1994 - the year the GOP grabbed control of the House and Senate from the Democrats and launched a Republican revolution.

"It's very hard to watch," lamented Dick Armey, who was House majority leader in those heady GOP days.

Surveys of voters at their polling places nationwide suggested Democrats were winning the support of independents with almost 60 percent support, and middle-class voters were leaving Republicans behind.

About six in 10 voters said they disapproved of the way Bush is handling his job, that the nation is on the wrong track and that they oppose the war in Iraq. Voters in all groups were more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republicans.

Over half of the votes registered disapproval with the way Republican leaders in Congress dealt with former Rep. Mark Foley and his sexually explicit computer messages to teenage pages. They voted overwhelming Democratic in House races, by a margin of 3-to-1.

The surveys were taken by The Associated Press and the networks.

History worked against the GOP, too. Since World War II, the party in control of the White House has lost an average 31 House seats and six Senate seats in the second midterm election of a president's tenure in office.

All 435 House seats were on the ballot along with 33 Senate races, elections that Democrats sought to make a referendum on the president's handling of the war, the economy and more.

Democrats piled up early gains among the 36 statehouse races on the ballot.

In Ohio, Rep. Ted Strickland defeated Republican Ken Blackwell with ease to become the state's first Democratic governor in 16 years. Deval Patrick triumphed over Republican Kerry Healey in Massachusetts, and will become the state's first black chief executive. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won the New York governor's race in a landslide.

Voters in Vermont made Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent, the winner in a Senate race, succeeding retiring Sen. James Jeffords. Brooklyn-born with an accent to match, Sanders is an avowed Socialist who will side with Democrats when he is sworn into office in January.

Democrat Amy Klobuchar, a county prosecutor, won the Minnesota Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat.

In Maryland, Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin captured an open Senate seat, defeating Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

Casey, a conservative challenger who opposes abortion rights, ran well ahead of Santorum, a member of the Senate GOP leadership in search of a third term.

Next door in Ohio, Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown was defeating Sen. Mike DeWine by a double-digit margin.

Congressional Democrats, locked out of power for most of the past dozen years, needed gains of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to capture majorities that would let them restrain Bush's conservative agenda through the rest of his term.

Bush was at the White House, awaiting returns that would determine whether he would have to contend with divided government during his final two years in office.

Pelosi was in Washington, waiting to learn whether her party would wrest control of the House from Republicans.

Several veteran senators coasted to new terms, including Republicans Orrin Hatch in Utah, Richard Lugar in Indiana, Trent Lott in Mississippi and Olympia Snowe in Maine; Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas, Craig Thomas in Wyoming; Jon Kyl in Arizona and John Ensign in Nevada and Democrats Robert C. Byrd in West Virginia; Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts; Tom Carper in Delaware; Debbie Stabenow in Michigan; Herb Kohl in Wisconsin; Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico, Ben Nelson in Nebraska, Kent Conrad in North Dakota and Daniel Akaka in Hawaii. In Florida, Bill Nelson thumped former secretary of state Katherine Harris to win a second term.

Incumbent governors winning at the polls include Republicans M. Jodi Rell, who ascended to her post in Connecticut when scandal-scarred Gov. John Rowland resigned, Bob Riley in Alabama, Rick Perry in Texas, Sonny Perdue in Georgia, Mark Sanford in South Carolina, Mike Rounds in South Dakota and Dave Heinemann in Nebraska. Also, Democrats Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Brad Henry in Oklahoma, Rod Blagojevich in Illinois, Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania, Dave Freudenthal in Wyoming; Jennifer Granholm in Michigan; Janet Napolitano in Arizona, Bill Richardson in New Mexico; Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas, John Lynch in New Hampshire and Mike Doyle in Wisconsin.

Voters also filled state legislative seats and decided hundreds of statewide ballot initiatives on issues ranging from proposed bans on gay marriage to increases in the minimum wage.

Voting was marred in scattered locations by equipment problems, long lines and other snafus and Illinois officials were swamped with calls from voters complaining that election workers did not know how to operate new electronic equipment.

More ominously, the FBI said it was investigating reports of possible ballot tampering in Indiana.

Overall, the Justice Department said polling complaints were down slightly from 2004 by early afternoon.

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