Washington Republicans rolled up historic gains to seize control of the House on Tuesday, as voters disenchanted with the economy, President Barack Obama and government dealt a strong rebuke to Democrats in every corner of the country.
The GOP ousted Democratic freshmen and influential veterans, including some considered safe just weeks ago. Republicans piled up their biggest House gains — 58 by early Wednesday — since they added 80 seats in 1938. The GOP victory eclipsed the 54-seat pickup by the so-called “revolution” that retook the House in 1994 for the first time in 40 years and the 56-seat Republican gain in 1946.
Ascendant Republican leaders quickly pledged to heed the message of angry voters who they acknowledged were rejecting what both parties had to offer.
“Across the country right now, we are 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, of Ohio, in line to become the next speaker.
With the realities of divided government sinking in, Obama called Boehner to say he looked forward to working with him and the GOP “to find common ground, move the country forward and get things done for the American people,” the White House said.
Boehner told the president he wanted to collaborate on voters’ top priorities, creating jobs and cutting spending. “That’s what they expect,” the 10-term Republican said.
Licking their wounds, House Democrats defended their legislative record and campaign strategy and said they would try to compromise with the GOP.
“The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, the first woman to hold the post. “We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward.”
By early Wednesday, the GOP had captured 233 seats and was leading for 12 more, while Democrats had won 173 and led for 17.
Democrats now control the House by a 255-178 margin, with two vacancies. All 435 seats were on the ballot.
Democrats had only picked up two Republican seats, and had lost some of their most powerful members, including Rep. John Spratt in South Carolina, the 14-termer who heads the Budget Committee, and Rep. Ike Skelton in Missouri, the Armed Services Committee chairman.
Republicans defeated nearly three dozen Democrats in districts won by Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, in the 2008 presidential campaign, as voters expressed anxiety about the economy, disillusion with Obama and tea party-fueled distaste for government. GOP gains were particularly pronounced in the Rust Belt, with the party racking up two wins in Indiana, five each in Ohio and Pennsylvania, three in Illinois, and two in Michigan. They scored key victories from Maryland to Washington and broke House Democrats’ monopolies in New England and in New York City — by defeating Rep. Carol Shea Porter in New Hampshire and Rep. Mike McMahon on Staten Island.
Among the victims were Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus; Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, of Florida; Rep. Frank Kratovil, of Maryland; and Rep. Tom Perriello, of Virginia, first-termers who backed key elements of Obama’s agenda — the president even campaigned for Perriello — and were savaged for it by their Republican rivals.
But those who stressed their independence from their party, such as Rep. Glenn Nye, of Virginia; Rep. Travis Childers, of Mississippi; and Rep. Bobby Bright, of Alabama, also went down. Some old bulls also fell, including nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota, 13-term Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania and 20-year veteran Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas.