Republicans tightened their grip on the US Senate today, capturing a string of Democratic seats while extending their decade-long hold on Congress.
Among the Democratic casualties was Senate minority leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota. He was edged out by former Congressman John Thune after a bruising €20m contest in which Republican leaders went all out to depose the nation’s top-ranking Democrat.
Yesterday’s voting left Republicans ready to control the House of Representatives for a dozen consecutive years, the first time they have achieved that feat since the 12 years that ended in January 1933.
With the Republicans also renewing their command of the Senate, the party was assured of reigning over Congress, though with narrow majorities that should allow Democrats to slow and even derail some Republican initiatives.
Republican leaders were jubilant. The two chambers’ leaders, House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee were already planning their agenda.
“One of the first things that Senator Frist and I want to do … is make sure that we can continue to supply better health care for the American people,” said Mr Hastert in an interview.
“Take care of those people who don’t have it. Also work and make sure that we take care of our men and women who are fighting overseas and to make this country even stronger against terrorist attack.”
By early this morning in the East, Republicans had won 226 seats and were leading in six others, which could give them at least 232 seats. That would be an effective three-seat gain for the Republicans. Democrats had 197 seats and led in five.
There are 435 seats in the House, with 218 needed for majority control.
Republicans hold a 227-205 advantage over Democrats in the outgoing House, plus two vacant seats formerly held by Republicans who have retired and one independent who sides with Democrats.
The failure of either party to make dramatic House gains underscored that the national debates over Iraq and the economy provided no decisive help to either side.
It was not all bad news for the Democrats. Illinois State Senator Barack Obama, a political star in the making, easily won a Senate seat formerly in Republican hands in Illinois, and will be the only black among 100 senators in January.
But the Republicans did most of the celebrating by far, taking Democratic open seats in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana. Representative David Vitter triumphed there, the first Republican since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era to win a term in the Senate.
“The nation spoke that we’re on the right course, and we’ll stay on that course and hopefully accelerate it,” said Mr Frist of Tennessee. He said the results showed voter rejection of Democratic “obstructionism” in the Senate. He added that he expects the strengthened Republican majority will be called to confirm one or more Supreme Court nominees.
Republicans hold 51 seats in the current Senate. Democrats have 48, along with the support of independent Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont.
Today they were assured of 53 seats in the Senate that convenes in January. Races in Alaska and Florida remained unsettled, and Republicans led in both.