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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Republicans Sweep Congress in U.S.

WASHINGTON -- In a victory of historic proportions, Republicans on Wednesday seized control of the Senate and the House, setting the stage for a frontal collision between a resurgent conservative Congress and a battered Democratic administration.


Voter repudiation of the Democrats only two years after the party regained control of the White House marks a sharp turn away from the message of activist government on which President Bill Clinton had campaigned in 1992.


The Republicans, who began the day of the election behind in the Senate, 44-56, ended up with an advantage of 52-48, boosted to 53-47 when Alabama Democrat Richard Shelby announced Wednesday he was switching to the Republican Party. In the House, where Democrats had been in the majority since 1954 and held a 256-178 majority going into the election, the Republicans had picked up 52 seats late Wednesday, giving a division of 204-230.


Indeed, the depth of Republican support was such that no GOP incumbent lost a bid for re-election to any major office: the Senate, the House or governorships.


Republicans attracted the support of the growing number of voters who believe that government cannot solve the nation's problems, according to exit polls. The result is certain to restrict Clinton's legislative ambitions further, forcing the president and his advisers to drastically reshape their plans for the rest of his tenure in office.


The president's top advisers acknowledged that he would have to trim his agenda in the wake of the Republican landslide.


"We're laying the groundwork for reaching out," said Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff. Clinton will push legislative themes that already have bipartisan support, including deficit reduction, Panetta said.


The combative Newt Gingrich, a doctrinaire conservative sure to be installed as House speaker in January and Senator Bob Dole, the incoming Senate majority leader will now share power with Clinton.


Gingrich said he saw his new responsibilities as "a very serious and solemn obligation." He intends to enforce the strict tenets of his Reaganesque "contract with America" to reduce taxes and shrink the federal government's role, he said.


Clinton was planning a nationally televised press conference for late Wednesday.


The GOP will take charge of all the legislative committee apparatus in both houses, giving its leaders far-reaching power to curb Clinton's legislative agenda and to put him on the defensive by conducting investigations and rejecting nominations.


Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who first uncovered possible Clinton administration impropriety related to Whitewater will become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, dashing any hopes the president might have had that the affair would simply fade away. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, will be under the control of Jesse Helms, who has loudly proclaimed his dislike of "striped-pants bureaucrats," whom he perceives as not being forceful enough in asserting American interests around the world.


Altogether, then, the Republican-controlled 104th Congress will be able to hinder Democrat Clinton much as the Democratic 102nd Congress hampered Republican George Bush in the last two years of his presidency.


The losses included some of the most prominent Democrats in the country. House Speaker Thomas Foley lost to George Nethercutt in Washington, the first time since 1862 -- when Pennsylvanians voted out Galusha Grow -- that a House speaker has been ousted from the job by voters in his own district. Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, one of his party's liberal icons, lost his office. So, too, did Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of Congress's Ways and Means committee until his indictment earlier this year on charges stemming from the House Post Office scandal, who conceded defeat to his opponent, attorney Michael Flanagan.


Despite his indictment, Rostenkowski had been so confident of re-election that he had barely bothered to campaign, not even printing campaign literature -- an act of hubris that had stunned even operatives in Chicago's once-legendary Democratic political machine.


Despite the stunning losses, there were some compensations for the Democrats: In Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, 62, overcame the toughest challenge of his 32-year career, defeating Republican Mitt Romney; in California, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein fought back a $27 million challenge from freshman Republican congressman Michael Huffington to narrowly win the most expensive race in Senate history; and in Virginia Democratic Senator Charles Robb won a nasty battle between two tarnished ex-Marines, overcoming allegations of marital infidelity to defeat Republican Oliver North.


Voters nationwide also decided on a number of ballot initiatives. Most controversially, Californians approved the highly divisive Proposition 187, which denies illegal immigrants access to public schools, social services and all but emergency medical care.


Republicans piled up their Senate majority initially by winning races in six states where retirements by incumbent Democrats had left their party vulnerable -- Maine, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona.


They got two more, enough to take control, by knocking off Democratic incumbents in Tennessee, where their candidate, physician Bill Frist, a physician, defeated incumbent Senator Jim Sasser and Pennsylvania, where Representative Rick Santorum ousted Democrat Harris Wofford. One of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate, Sasser had hoped to become majority leader after Senator George Mitchell of Maine announced his retirement.


In the contest for governorships, the GOP, in addition to winning New York, also wrested Texas away from the Democrats, with the former president's son George Bush defeating incumbent Governor Ann Richards. His other son, Republican candidate Jeb Bush, was defeated in his bid to unseat Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.


The congressional losses appeared to be among the worst for a party in power since 1946, when the Democrats also lost control of both houses of Congress. It was only cold comfort to the White House that President Harry Truman used the resulting Republican-controlled Congress as a foil for his come-from-behind election in 1948. In four other post-war elections in which the party in power lost heavily -- races in 1950, 1958, 1966 and 1974 -- it lost the White House two years later.


The Republican tide was particularly strong in the South, a one-time bastion of Democratic power that moved to the GOP in presidential elections a generation ago but had, until now, stayed loyal to long-entrenched Democratic incumbents in Congress.


This year, however, with many older Democrats choosing to retire, and with others battered by the deep unpopularity of Clinton, Republicans rode to victory in House races from North Carolina to Texas.


But the GOP surge extended far beyond Southern precincts. Republicans picked off four Democratic seats in Ohio, for example, as well as two in New Jersey, at least two more in Indiana and as many as five in Washington.


In races for governor, Republicans began the day with 20 governorships to 29 for the Democrats, with one held by an independent. In addition to New York and Texas, Republicans seized executive mansions in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming.