WASHINGTON — Opposition Republicans delivered a stinging blow to Barack Obama's presidency in elections Tuesday, capturing enough seats to win control of the House of Representatives. They made big gains in the Senate but fell short of a majority.
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With some districts still undecided, Republicans had picked up the 40 seats they needed for a majority in the House. If that lead holds, as is likely, the United States will have a new era of divided government.
Obama would have to deal with a more conservative Congress, which would include members of the anti-establishment tea party movement. John Boehner, a conservative lawmaker from Ohio, would replace liberal Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
The results reflected Americans' frustrations with the weak US economy and disillusionment with Obama, who was swept into office two years ago on a message of hope and change.
In the Senate, Republicans won at least five Senate seats now held by Democrats with victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas, North Dakota and Indiana. But Democrats hung on to their majority by keeping their seats in California and West Virginia.
Republicans needed to pick up the 10 seats to take control of the 100-seat Senate.
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The Republican gains will complicate Obama's ability to enact his proposals during the next two years and possibly force him to fight off attacks on health care legislation and other bills already signed into law.
Although international affairs had little role in the campaign, Obama's global agenda also would be affected in areas such as arms control and climate change.
Obama scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to discuss the election outcome. Before the first results came in, Washington already was buzzing with speculation about whether Republican gains would lead to gridlock or attempts to find common ground, and how they would affect Obama's prospects for re-election in 2012.
In addition to the congressional vote, Republicans were making gains in the 37 governors' races, capturing at least seven states from Democrats. Those seats are especially important as states conduct the once-a-decade task of redrawing congressional districts.
The elections were the biggest test yet for the tea party movement, an amorphous series of groups angered by what they see as the excessive growth of government.
They won some big victories. Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, won the Senate seat in Kentucky, despite Democratic claims he was too extreme politically. Another candidate backed by the movement, Marco Rubio, won in a three-way Senate race in Florida. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American, won the South Carolina governorship.
The tea party, though, may have prevented Republicans from picking up the Delaware seat long held by Vice President Joe Biden. Christine O'Donnell, a tea party favorite whose outlandish remarks won her national attention, was defeated by Democrat Chris Coons. O'Donnell shocked the political establishment by winning the party nomination from a veteran congressman who had been heavily favored to beat Coons.
The most closely watched race involving the tea party was in Nevada, where Republican Sharron Angle was in a close contest with the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid.
That race, along with Senate contests in Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state, were seen as toss-ups.
The Republican gains reflected Obama's drop in popularity. Although the president was not on the ballot, Republicans campaigned against his policies, while some Democrats distanced themselves from him. Republicans capitalized on voter anxiety about high unemployment and a rising federal deficit.
Four in 10 voters said they are worse off financially than they were two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and pre-election polls. Those who cast ballots expressed dissatisfaction with Obama as well as the two political parties.
Democrats blamed the policies of Obama's predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, for the weak economy and said Obama's policies prevented a financial catastrophe. But it proved difficult to campaign on the message that things could have been worse. Independents and other voters who had supported Democrats in 2008 shifted to Republicans.
Obama gave a series of radio interviews pleading with Democratic supporters not to sit on the sidelines. "I know things are still tough out there, but we finally have job growth again," he said in one.
All 435 seats in the House were on the ballot, plus 37 in the Senate.
Besides the gubernatorial and state legislative races, voters were
considering ballot measures in 37 states, including a proposal in
California to legalize recreational marijuana.
Despite the anti-establishment mood, most incumbents were expected to be
re-elected. But 100 House races were seen as competitive, an
astonishing number by American standards. About half those seats were in
districts Republicans lost to Democrats in 2006 and 2008.
Some of the biggest states elected governors, including California,
where Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr. defeated Meg Whitman to return to the
office he left more than a quarter-century ago. In New York, Andrew
Cuomo won the office his father held for a dozen years.
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