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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Democrats Surprise in U.S. Elections




WASHINGTON -- Defying history, the Democrats made a surprisingly strong showing in U.S. House and Senate races, leaving Republicans wounded and strengthening President Bill Clinton's hand in his struggle against impeachment.


Clinton called the election "a vindication" of his policies.


House Speaker Newt Gingrich saw his predictions of big Republican gains in the election blown away. "We have to look carefully at what happened and at what lessons Republicans have to learn," Gingrich said.


The Republicans retained control of Congress but their already-slim margin was trimmed in the House. In the Senate, Republicans held their 55-45 advantage over Democrats.


In a White House appearance, Clinton said the American people sent a message to Washington: "We sent you there to work for us and we want you to find a way to do it."


Gingrich rejected the suggestion, pushed by other Democrats, that the voters sent a message against impeachment. He said Republicans were not about to "take a major constitutional duty and reduce it to the level of who can spin best."


However, Representative David Dreier, incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, said it is now more likely that the House will finish its impeachment inquiry by the end of the year. "The election has played a role in ensuring that none of us has a desire to drag that out," he said.


Clinton read in the election returns support for the policies he had pushed - largely without success - in Congress: school construction, Social Security and health insurance reforms. "It was a vindication of the policies and of the general policy of putting partisanship behind progress and of putting people before politics and of trying to find ways to bring people together instead of to divide them," the president said.


In the House, Republicans won 223 seats, down five from their 228 in the current Congress. Democrats, who now hold 206 seats, had won 210 and were leading in one more, in Oregon. The House's lone independent also was re-elected.


The results defied the trend since World War II that the party controlling the White House loses seats in midterm elections.


Republicans lost their hold on governors' seats in California and four other states but nearly offset that by picking up four new governorships. These are of national importance because of the major voice state governors will have in redistricting congressional districts following the next census in 2000.


Election Day's most unusual outcome was the upset victory by former professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor of Minnesota, running under the Reform Party banner. Talk show host David Letterman joked that Ventura's campaign promised, "Building a steroid-enhanced bridge to the 21st century."


The elections minted a new political dynasty, making one son of former President George Bush - Jeb - the winner of the Florida governor's race and returning another son - George W. - as Texas governor.


But Democrat Gray Davis won the plum governorship prize, California, ending 16 years of Republican control and leaving the Democrats in good position to add seats in Congress after redistricting.


Democrats also defeated Republican governors in Alabama and South Carolina, and picked up Iowa, to hold steady with 17 governorships. The Republicans, in turn, took over Nebraska, Nevada and Colorado from the Democrats but lost their hold on Minnesota to Ventura. There will be 31 Republican governors and two independents.


The first black woman ever elected to the Senate, Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun, was defeated in Illinois by wealthy state Senator Peter Fitzgerald.


On the Republican side, Alfonse D'Amato was defeated in New York by Democratic Representative Charles Schumer in the nation's nastiest and costliest Senate race. Republican Senator Lauch Faircloth lost in North Carolina to trial lawyer John Edwards. The twin Republican losses were especially relished by the White House as D'Amato and Faircloth were among Clinton's foremost critics.


Some Republicans groused their party had miscalculated by focusing on Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky.


Millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, angling for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, said the Republican leadership - including Gingrich - "will have a lot to answer for." Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, another likely White House hopeful, said, "We're going to have to start talking about what we're for - and not what we're against."


House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said Democrats made gains by concentrating on "everyday issues," while Republicans "spent a lot of time on this impeachment investigation and 40 or 50 other investigations they carried on endlessly."


"The message all over the country is that they want us to get back to work on the people's business," said Vice President Al Gore.


As expected, voter turnout was light, about 38 percent - a fraction below the 38.8 percent turnout at the last midterm election in 1994.


Michigan voters rejected physician-assisted suicide. Voters in Washington state approved an initiative to outlaw most affirmative action programs. Proposals to legalize medical marijuana were approved in Nevada, Arizona and Washington state. Hawaii and Alaska passed anti-gay marriage measures by large margins.


Wall Street extended its rebound Wednesday on the heels of rallies overseas and with encouragement from an election that seems to have slowed the momentum for impeachment.