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Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives Tuesday and garnered at least half of the Senate, ushering in a new political climate in the US and calls for a new direction in the war in Iraq.
While the Democratic victory in the House was anticipated, the strong showing by the party in both chambers caught many by surprise. Democrats won at least an additional 28 seats in the House, and many of the toss-up races in the Senate were taken by the current minority party.
Democrats said the victory was a sign of frustration by the American electorate over the planning and progress of the war in Iraq. The message seemed to have been almost immediately heard - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned on Wednesday.
The Democrats held onto almost all of the 200 seats they had in the current Congress and was able to pick up many open seats and unseat veteran incumbents across the country. Several seats remained too close to call by Wednesday afternoon.
In the Senate, the Democrats captured 50 seats, including two independent senators who will caucus with the Democrats. Jim Webb, a Democrat, has a small lead in the race for Virginia's Senate seat, currently held by George Allen, a Republican, but a recount is expected. If the Democrats hold onto that lead, they will also hold a majority in the Senate.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, likely to become the next speaker of the House, said the election was a signal for a "new direction" in Iraq. "The American people have spoken," she said. "It's important for us to work in a bipartisan way with the president, again, to solve the problem, not to stay the course."
President George W. Bush, before announcing Rumsfeld's resignation and the nomination of Robert Gates as his replacement, said he spoke with the incoming House Democratic leaders, and was eager to put partisan politics aside and work with them.
"I told my party's leaders that it is now our duty to put the elections behind us and work together with the Democrats and independents on the great issues facing this country," he told a Wednesday news conference. "The message yesterday was clear. The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner and work together to address the challenges facing our nation."
All Jewish incumbents seeking reelection won Tuesday. The Senate gained two new Jews - Rep. Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.
Six new Jewish congressmen will join the House of Representatives, representing a diverse segment of the country. They lawmakers were elected in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Voters in Minnesota also elected the first Muslim member of Congress - Keith Ellison, a Democrat.
Jewish Democrats were also touting exit poll results that showed Jewish voters choosing Democratic candidates 87 percent of the time, compared to 12% for Republicans. But GOP officials were disputing the reliability of the results because of the small sample size.
Several veteran lawmakers lost their seats. John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican who was seen as unfriendly toward Israel, was defeated.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), who attracted strong pro-Israel support but was also chastised by many Jews for his conservative domestic policy positions, lost his seat. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island), who was not perceived as a strong supporter of the Jewish state during his time as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's Middle East subcommittee, was also defeated.
Democrats also picked up seats in Missouri, Montana and Ohio and held seats that were in contention in Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey.
"We have to get things done for the American people," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "The greatness of this country is being stalled, as we are unable to move forward on education and on energy and on Iraq and so many other issues."
If the Senate is split evenly between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, the parties are expected to share leadership evenly, but Vice President Dick Cheney would have the tiebreaking vote.
In the House, Republican leaders said a series of "self-inflicted wounds" along with key retirements in swing states and other factors helped contribute to the loss.
"The election really was a matter of history repeating itself," said Representative Thomas Reynolds (R-NY), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Second term midterm elections are the toughest for the president's party, and one like last night is absolutely no different."
The writer is also a reporter for Congressional Quarterly.
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