WASHINGTON // The Republican Party has taken control of the US House of Representatives in a hard-fought midterm contest that saw the Democrats narrowly retaining its Senate majority.
By end of day, all major US networks had declared victory for Republicans in the House, exit polls showing them taking at least 60 seats off the Democrats and forecasts suggesting that number could rise. Republicans need 39 seats to secure a majority.
The Democrats, however, are likely to retain a slim majority in the Senate, where Republicans had picked up five seats, half of the 10 the party needed.
Nevertheless, the scale of the Republican victory is a major setback for Barack Obama, the US president, who has failed to convince a disgruntled electorate that his policies will remedy a sluggish American economy and secure more jobs.
Slow economic growth and high unemployment have consistently polled as the most important issues in the midterm elections, and though the National Bureau of Economic Research last month announced that the recession, which started under George W Bush, the former president,
had ended 16 months ago, voters were in an unforgiving mood.
“The American people’s voices were heard at the ballot box,” declared John Boehner, the Republican representative for Ohio who is now set to be the House majority leader.
“We are seeing a repudiation of Washington and a repudiation of big government,” he told supporters at a victory rally in Ohio, echoing a recurring theme in the elections. “For too long, Washington has been doing what’s best for Washington, not what’s good for Americans. Tonight that’s about to change.”
On a day of crushing setbacks for the Democrats, there were a few bright spots. The party hung on to Senate seats in Delaware, Connecticut, West Virginia, and, notably, in California, where Barbara Boxer looks to have fended off Republican Carla Fiorina.
Moreover, in one of the most closely watched races, Senate Majoritynleader and the Democratic incumbent Harry Reid also looks to have defeated Tea Party favourite, Sharron Angle.
Christine O’Donnell, another Tea Party hopeful, faded to a crushing defeat in Delaware, but Tea Party stalwart Rand Paul took Kentucky and Marco Rubio took Florida, a sign that although Republicans were clear winners yesterday, the party faces some internal turmoil.
“Our nation is going in the wrong direction,” said Mr Rubio, at a rally in Florida. “And both parties are to blame.”
With a hostile House, Mr Obama will now face an uphill battle forcing through legislation.
Sarah Palin, who is touted as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, told Fox News that there was no reason Democrats couldn’t work with Republicans.
“We’re saying to them, the train is leaving the station, and you’re welcome to come on board. But we’re moving in the opposite direction.”