(photo credit: )
The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and challenged the Republican majority in the Senate in an election day blow to President George W. Bush, riding to victory on a powerful wave of public anger over the war in Iraq and scandal at home.
Democratic candidates reclaimed governors' offices throughout the country, putting them on track to take a majority of the governorships for the first time in 12 years.
Democratic House victory a blow to Bush
Two main US parties vie for 100,000 votes in Israel
Meanwhile, exit polls released by CNN on Wednesday showed that 87% of Jews voted Democratic in Tuesday's elections.
By early Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up more than 20 House seats now in Republican hands. That was well above the 15 they needed to take control of the House, although the size of their majority depended on numerous races yet uncalled.
Democrats must gain 15 House seats and six Senate seats to take power in each chamber. All 435 House seats and 33 of 100 Senate seats were at stake in Tuesday's elections.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, won re-election as an independent.
Lieberman, who supported the Iraq war, lost the Democratic nomination to an anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont. He will side with Democrats when he returns to Washington.
Meanwhile, Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the nation's first Muslim member of Congress on Tuesday, easily winning a Minneapolis-area district Republicans have not carried since 1962.
Ellison, who is black, is also Minnesota's first nonwhite representative in Washington.
None of the 24 Jewish incumbents was expected to face a serious challenge as the voting continued on Tuesday night, and several Jewish challengers were heavily favored to win as well. Several favored candidates running for open Senate seats were Jewish as well.
Jewish candidates were involved in some of the closest races, and were playing a significant role in determining whether Democrats would win control of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
While experts agree the number of Jews in Congress has little influence on policy toward Israel or other issues, the figure has always been important to American Jews. Just as Jewish celebrities and presidential candidates have garnered community support and affection, so too do the country's Jewish representatives.
"Any group in the electorate would like to have as many of their group in elected [office] as possible," said Kenneth Goldstein, a professor of political science and Judaic studies at the University of Wisconsin.
There are currently 11 Jewish senators, but only three are up for election this year. All but two of the 26 Jews in the outgoing House of Representatives are running for reelection. Reps. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, are both running for open Senate seats. Sanders is almost assured to win; Cardin is favored in a tight race against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.
Two Jews were almost guaranteed to join the House because of the political makeup of their districts. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, is expected to win easily in Arizona, replacing Republican Jim Kolbe, who is retiring. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, is also expected to win handily in Tennessee, replacing fellow Democrat Harold Ford, who is in a close Senate race.
And others were locked in tight races. Ron Klein, a Democratic Florida state senator, was looking to unseat Republican Clay Shaw, who has been in office since 1981. That contest was incredibly close, with Klein characterizing the veteran lawmaker as in lockstep with President George Bush.
Ellen Simon, a Democrat and a civil rights attorney, was looking to upset Republican Rick Renzi in Arizona. The US Attorney's Office is investigating allegations that Renzi used his office to help a former business partner with a land deal.
Democrat Paul Hodes was trying once again to defeat Republican Charles Bass in New Hampshire. While Bass won the seat by 20 percentage points in 2004, this year's race is considered to be much tighter. Two other races were also considered too close to call: Gary Trauner's race against Republican Barbara Cubin in Wyoming and the race between Steve Kagen, a Jewish Democratic allergist, and Republican State Assembly Speaker John Gard in Wisconsin.
Winning some of these races is seen as key to Democrats' chances of taking over the House.
Robert Shamansky is running against Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), and Judith Feder is running against Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia. The incumbents are favored in these races, but they remain in play.
In the Senate, all three Jewish incumbents running are expected to return - Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Herb Kohl (R-Wis.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). Lieberman, who lost the Democratic party primary earlier this year, is expected to retain his seat as an independent and has said he will caucus with Democrats.
The perennial question, "Who is a Jew?" is being asked. If he wins re-election, Sen. George Allen of Virginia almost certainly will not be among those in the unofficial Jewish caucus. But after the recent admission that his mother was raised as a Jew, some Jewish politicos may choose to add him to the headcount.
The Forward newspaper, which broke the story of Allen's roots, even added Allen this week to the "Forward 50," its annual list of the most influential Jews in the United States.
Several non-Jewish candidates are married to Jews and are members of synagogues. They include Lois Murphy, a Democrat in a tight race in Pennsylvania against Rep. Jim Gerlach, and John Sarbanes, the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), who is seeking Cardin's House seat.
Matthew E. Berger is also a correspondent for Congressional Quarterly.