Voters delivered an epic victory to Republicans and a stinging defeat to Democrats in midterm elections Tuesday, handing the GOP an avalanche of pickups in the House the likes of which has not been seen in more than half a century.
Republicans were on their way to gaining around 60 seats in the House, and had made huge advances in the Senate as well. GOP candidates also won big in governors races and state legislatures across the country.
The consolations for Democrats were few: they retained control of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held on to his Nevada Senate seat, and Democrats won a few House races that were thought to be in danger.
Prior to the election, House Democrats held 255 seats, and Republicans held 178 seats. The new reality will be a Republican majority of around 240, and a Democratic minority around 190. The current count is 239 to 187 with 9 races undecided.
The GOP House gains were the biggest swing for either party since 1948, when Democrats gained 75 seats on the back of President Truman’s campaign against a “do-nothing” GOP Congress.
The last time such a large swing occurred in a midterm election was in 1938, when Democrats lost 72 seats to Republicans in the middle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term, as voters lost confidence in the New Deal.
In the Senate Tuesday, Republicans picked up seats in Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania. They were on pace to win in North Dakota as well, and the Colorado race was too close to call, with Republican Ken Buck holding a lead of a few hundred votes.
The total pickup for the GOP in the Senate was set to be between 6 and 8 seats, depending on the outcomes in Colorado, Washington and Alaska. The latter two may not be decided for days.
Republicans also won a key gubernatorial race in Ohio and looked likely to win in Florida, both contests that President Obama and Democrats badly wanted to win. And 19 separate state chambers flipped from Democrat to Republican, in the latest count.
Republicans, however, said they were not celebrating.
“We’ve got real work to do, and frankly this is not a time for celebration, not when one out of 10 of our fellow citizens is out of work,” said John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is set to become the next Speaker of the House.
Boehner said “our new majority will be prepared to do things differently,” saying they will cut spending instead of increasing it, which will be a much easier promise to make than it will be to fulfill.
And Boehner sought immediately to prevent Obama and the White House from sticking the new House Republican majority with full responsibility for the ship of state.
“We must remember it’s the president who sets the agenda,” Boehner said. “The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight, and that message is, ‘Change course.'”
Obama called Boehner around midnight “to congratulate him,” according to Boehner’s office.
“They had a brief but pleasant conversation. Leader Boehner said he’s always been straightforward and honest with the president in the past, and said that’s the way he’ll continue to be with the president in the future. They discussed working together to focus on the top priorities of the American people, which Boehner has identified as creating jobs and cutting spending,” Boehner’s office said.
Obama said he was “looking forward to working with him and the Republicans to find common ground, move the country forward and get things done for the American people,” the White House said.
Obama also called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, as well as current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Reid.
Pelosi, who is expected to retire rather than return to the minority, released a statement just before 2 a.m. stating that “the outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people.”
“Over the last four years, the Democratic Majority in the House took courageous action on behalf of America’s middle class to create jobs and save the country from the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” she said.
The House slaughter was most evident in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia, where multiple seats held by Democrats flipped to the GOP.
In the Senate, Tea Party candidates Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida, who were widely expected to win, sent a clear message that they intended to take on both Democrats and their own Republican Party in challenging the status quo.
“We’ve come to take our government back,” Paul said. “The American people want to know why we have to balance our budget and [Washington politicians] don’t.”
Rubio said it would be a “grave mistake” to view the election as an open-throated endorsement of the Republican Party, calling it instead a “second chance.”
Rubio called it “a chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago … Our nation is headed in the wrong direction and both parties are to blame.”