By USA TODAY staff
Democrats took over the House in Tuesday's midterm elections but Senate control might take weeks to decide, in an election shaped by voter discontent with President Bush and the direction of the Iraq war.
The Associated Press has projected that Democrats have taken the seats necessary to wrest House control from the Republicans, and the fate of the Senate increasingly looks like it might rest on a few thousand votes in Virginia.
"The campaign is over. Democrats are ready to lead," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Tuesday night. Tuesday's results mean Pelosi is likely to become the first female speaker in House history.
Democrat Claire McCaskill's victory over incumbent Sen. Jim Talent in Missouri has put Senate control within her party's grasp. Two Senate races remained undecided early Wednesday — Montana, where a Democratic challenger led, and Virginia, where another Democratic challenger was ahead by the slimmest of margins. Democrats must win both to seize Senate control.
The Virginia race between incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen Jr. and Democratic challenger Jim Webb was separated by a few thousand votes early Wednesday out of more than 2.2 million cast, with Webb holding the slight lead.
The slim margin raised the possibility of a recount and legal action, which could take weeks to resolve.
The House outcome, though, was clear. Adviser Karl Rove informed President Bush about 11:15 p.m. ET that the House was lost, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"Of course he's disappointed," she said of the president, but "he's looking forward to working with the Democrats."
Bush will discuss the results at a 1 p.m. ET news conference Wednesday, she said. He will also be making a series of congratulatory phone calls, including one to Pelosi.
Four incumbent Republicans lost in the Senate. Pennsylvanians voted out conservative stalwart Rick Santorum — the No. 3 GOP leader in the Senate — in favor of Democrat Bob Casey; Rhode Island voters picked Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse over incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee; Ohio voters chose Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown over Republican incumbent Mike Dewine; and McCaskill beat Talent.
Democrats also won major House races in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Kentucky and the closely contested governor's race in Ohio, the AP projected. And Democrats seized a majority of the nation's governorships for the first time in 12 years.
And Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the incumbent from Connecticut who was defeated earlier this year in that state's Democratic primary, has won re-election as an independent, according to projections.
Up for grabs in the midterm elections are all 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats and governorships in 36 states as well as ballot initiatives in some states on such topics as gay marriage and stem-cell research.
Following are key developments and projected election winners. All projections are made by the AP using a combination of election results and exit polls.
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.
In Florida, state Rep. Joe Negron, a Republican, conceded to Democrat Tim Mahoney in the race to replace disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. Foley resigned in September after being confronted with sexually explicit computer messages and inappropriate e-mails that he allegedly sent to male House pages.
At least two dozen Republican House seats are at risk. Among GOP-held open seats, those in Arizona, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Iowa seemed most vulnerable. More on House races
If Democrats should win the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, would be in line to become the first female House speaker in history.
The fight for control came down to 50 or so seats, nearly half of them in a string stretching from Connecticut through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. All were in Republican hands, a blend of seats coming open and incumbents in trouble.
Other Senate races
In one of the night's key races, Republican Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, defeated Democratic Rep. Harold Ford for the Tennessee seat held by retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Ford had sought to become the first black southerner elected to the Senate in more than a century.
In other races, Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., won his state's Senate race over Lt. Gov. Michael Steele; West Virginia's Robert Byrd, a Democrat, won a record ninth Senate term; Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson defeated Republican challenger Katherine Harris in their U.S. Senate race in Florida; and incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow won re-election in Michigan.
Incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez won a tough New Jersey race against Republican state senator Tom Kean Jr. — one of the few races where a Democratic Senate incumbent appeared in trouble. Political independent Bernie Sanders won the Vermont seat now held by another independent, retiring Sen. James Jeffords.
The Senate will have two independents, thanks to Lieberman's victory. Both Sanders and Lieberman are expected to vote for Democrats when the Senate's leaders are elected.
In Ohio, Rep. Ted Strickland defeated Republican Ken Blackwell with ease to become the first Democrat elected governor there in 16 years., Deval Patrick triumphed over Republican Kerry Healey in Massachusetts and will become the state's first black chief executive. Democrat Elliot Spitzer, New York's high-profile attorney general, won the state's gubernatorial election. More on governors
In another Democratic pickup, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was elected Maryland's governor, beating incumbent Republican Robert Ehrlich.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, long targeted by the GOP, defeated millionaire Dick DeVos, even though he put more than $35 million of his own money toward his campaign.
In California, incumbent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected; Republican Charlie Crist, the state attorney general of Florida, defeated Democratic Rep. Jim Davis in the contest to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Jeb Bush.
Ten states had open seats because of retirements, term limits and primary defeat. Five other states were so competitive that incumbent governors were fighting hard to avoid being unseated. In all, 36 states chose their top leaders.
The Democrats were hoping to reverse the Republican majority among governorships that the GOP has held ever since the landslide of 1994.
Amendments to ban gay marriage won approval Tuesday in three states — including Wisconsin, where gay-rights activists had nursed hopes of engineering the first defeat of such a ban. More on ballot measures
Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states — ranging from routine bond issues to a riveting contest in South Dakota, where voters chose whether to uphold or reject a toughest-in-the-nation law that would ban virtually all abortions.
Activists on both sides of the abortion debate were on edge over the campaign, and early returns showed a close contest. If the ban is upheld, abortion-rights supporters are likely to launch a legal challenge that could lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For voters in House races, national issues trumped local ones, according to national exit poll results released by the Associated Press.
About six in 10 voters disapproved of the war in Iraq, and they strongly favored Democratic House candidates. Less than a third said the war has improved the long-term security of the United States, down from 46% in the 2004 national exit poll.
While voters considered Iraq a very important factor in their decision, it lagged behind the economy, government corruption and scandal as a factor. Terrorism was rated at least as important as Iraq.
More than twice as many voters said they felt angry toward President Bush as felt enthusiastic. About four in 10 voters approved of how Bush is handling his job, slightly more than for Congress .
Eight states had ban-gay-marriage amendments on their ballots; South Carolina and Virginia joined Wisconsin in approving them, while results were pending in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.
At St. John's United Methodist Church in St. Charles, Mo., 35 people waiting outside at 6 a.m. Tuesday to vote when polls opened. Turnout was heavy through the day, said Denise Jensen, a poll worker who has worked the past past several elections at the precinct.
"It's the highest I've ever worked," she said. "If we continue at this pace, we'll be at 80% turnout."
As both parties revved up their massive get-out-the-vote operations, programming errors and inexperience dealing with electronic voting machines caused some problems:
• A federal judge ordered an Ohio county to keep 16 Cleveland-area polling locations open until 9 p.m. ET because of long lines and earlier problems with voting machines.There were reports some machines wouldn't function. "We got five machines — one of them's got to work," said Willette Scullank, a troubleshooter from the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, elections board.
•In Indiana's Marion County, about 175 of 914 precincts turned to paper because poll workers didn't know how to run the machines, said Marion County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler. Election officials in Delaware County, planned to seek a court order to extend voting after an apparent computer error prevented voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts.
• In Florida, voting was briefly delayed at four districts because of either mixed up ballots or electronic activators being unintentionally wiped out, according to Mary Cooney, spokeswoman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections. Voters were forced to use paper ballots after an electronic machine broke in the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park.
"This is largely what I expected," said Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org, a non-partisan group that tracks voting changes and procedures. "With as much change as we had, expecting things to go absolutely smoothly at the beginning of the day is too optimistic."
Contributing: Douglas Stanglin, Bill Nichols, Kathy Kiely, David Jackson, Andrea Stone, Randy Lilleston and the Associated Press.