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AMP Report – November 9, 2006

The Democrats control both the House & Senate

In a stunning rebuke to President George Bush and the scandal-plagued Republican Party, Americans have given control of the House of Representatives and Senate to the Democrats in Tuesday’s midterm elections. This disenchantment of voters came only after two years when in 2004 they reelected President Bush and gave control of Congress to the GOP.

Two days after the election, Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) Thursday conceded the election to Democrat James Webb, cementing Democratic control of the Senate. The race in Virginia was the last Senate seat to be decided in the mid-term election.

Democratic control of Congress will cast a long shadow over the remainder of Bush's second term. If there is any chance of enacting major legislation, Bush and congressional Democrats will have to polish their skills at building bipartisan governing coalitions after years of tense, polarized relations.

The GOP had grabbed control of the Senate and the House with its landslide win in the 1994 midterm election. Republicans have held the House since then; Democrats regained a Senate majority for about 18 months during Bush's first term, but lost it in the 2002 election.

The takeover, the culmination of a campaign dominated by deepening public disapproval of the Iraq war, loomed as the most decisive political shift in Washington since 1994, when Republicans picked up 28 House and 6 Senate seats and won control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

The Democrats win of the House put the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) into position to become the nation's first female speaker.

Democrats scored gains all across the country, from conservative red states such as Indiana to liberal blue states such as Connecticut, and from rural North Carolina to the suburbs of Philadelphia. Republicans were ousted in costly, often bitter campaigns that hinged more on national issues — the war in Iraq, Bush's unpopularity, concern about political corruption — than on the local concerns that Republicans had hoped to lean on.

According to Washington Post, the upheaval in the House and the changing balance in the Senate signaled a dramatic power shift in Washington that will alter the final two years of Bush's presidency, with resurgent Democrats expected to challenge the administration on its domestic priorities and the Iraq war.

Sixty percent of voters leaving the polls on Tuesday said they opposed the war in Iraq, and 40 percent said their vote was a vote against Mr. Bush. In addition, a significant number of voters said corruption was a crucial issue in their decision, in a year in which Republicans have struggled with scandal in their ranks. Independent voters, a closely watched group in a polarized country, broke heavily for Democrats over Republicans, the exit polls showed.

The New York Times said that beyond the change in party power, the results signaled that the House was in for something of an ideological scramble. While the election was marked by the defeat of a procession of Republican moderates — from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Florida — the new class of Democrats include congressmen-elect who are considerably more moderate than many of their new brethren

In contrast to 2004 and 2002, when the president was sought after by Republican candidates throughout the country, Mr. Bush was extremely unpopular in many parts of the country this year, limiting the places where he was welcome to campaign. He was shunned by his party’s candidate for governor in Florida on Monday, and Democrats ran hundreds of advertisements featuring their Republican opponents standing or sitting next to Mr. Bush.

By all accounts, the election became nationalized early - dominated by big questions rather than the parochial concerns that often determine races for House and Senate. Voters were angry about the war in Iraq, many no longer believing administration assertions it is a vital front against terrorism, and also about congressional scandals that reeked of arrogance of power. They strongly disapproved of Bush's performance.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said: This morning, President Bush has just over 800 days left in the White House. He still has the nuclear codes, the veto pen, and a pretty good megaphone. But voters slammed the symbolic brakes on his presidency yesterday, guaranteeing a more assertive Congress as they turned the midterm elections into a referendum on Republican rule.

Democrats also picked up six governors’ seats currently held by Republicans, most significantly in Ohio, where Representative Ted Strickland won. Mr. Strickland’s victory, along with the defeat of Mr. DeWine by Sherrod Brown, signaled that Ohio was no longer the Republican bulwark that it has long been.

Here are excerpts from newspaper comments on Tuesday’s midterm elections:

A loud message for Bush - New York Times

Everything is different now for President Bush. The era of one-party Republican rule in Washington ended with a crash in yesterday’s midterm elections, putting a proudly unyielding president on notice that the voters want change, especially on the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush now confronts the first Democratic majority in the House in 12 years and a significantly bigger Democratic caucus in the Senate that were largely elected on the promise to act as a strong check on his administration. Almost any major initiative in his final two years in office will now, like it or not, have to be bipartisan to some degree.

For six years, Mr. Bush has often governed, and almost always campaigned, with his attention focused on his conservative base. But yesterday’s voting showed the limits of those politics, as practiced — and many thought perfected — by Mr. Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove.

In the bellwether states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, two Republican senators, both members of the legendary freshman class of 1994, were defeated by large margins. Across the Northeast, Republican moderates were barely surviving or, like Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, falling to Democrats who had argued that they were simply too close to a conservative president.

Most critically, perhaps, Republicans lost the political center on the Iraq war, according to national exit polls. Voters who identified themselves as independents broke strongly for the Democrats, the exit polls showed, as did those who described themselves as moderates.

A voter rebuke for bush, the war and the right - Washington Post

The political pendulum in American politics swung away from the right yesterday, putting an end to the 12-year Republican Revolution on Capitol Hill and delivering a sharp rebuke of President Bush and the Iraq war.

The GOP reign in the House that began with Newt Gingrich in a burst of vision and confrontation in 1994 came crashing down amid voter disaffection with congressional corruption. The collapse of one-party rule in Washington will transform Bush's final two years in office and challenge Democrats to make the leap from angry opposition to partners in power.

How far the balance shifts to the left remains to be seen. The passion of the antiwar movement helped propel party activists in this election year, and the House leadership under the likely new speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), hails from the party's liberal wing. But the Democrats' victory was built on the back of more centrist candidates seizing Republican-leaning districts, and Pelosi emphasized that she will try to lead without becoming the ideological mirror of Gingrich.

The Democrats' return to power in at least one house and gains in the other mean Bush will almost certainly face powerful pressure to reassess his Iraq policy -- not just from Democrats but from within his own party. Even many Republicans hanging on last night emerged from a bruising election restive and looking for a fresh direction.

Shift coming in US policy on Iraq - The Christian Science Monitor

When the midterm elections are over, the Bush administration can get down to making tough calls in Iraq policy.

With Republicans and Democrats alike calling for a new direction to American efforts in Iraq, the United States will proceed to new policies that will be neither a rabbit-out-of-the-hat redirection nor simply cosmetic tinkering, experts say. In other words, expect neither abrupt US withdrawal nor dogged insistence that current policies are working.

Among many options under consideration, these are the ones most likely to see the light of day, judging from lawmakers, experts, and steps the White House is already taking:

A new diplomatic push to engage all of Iraq's neighbors - including Iran and Syria - to stabilize the country and help pull it back from the brink of full-blown civil war.

More insistence that the Iraq government make the decisions needed to help quell sectarian violence - including such things as combatant amnesty and the sharing of oil revenue.

Reduction of US troop numbers over the next year to a level sustainable among both the American and Iraqi publics.

The US elections may have held up decision making until now, some experts say. But now, they add, changes are not only possible, but unavoidable because of such forces as deteriorating conditions in Iraq, unabated political pressure, and the much-anticipated report of the high-profile Iraq Study Group - co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Democratic congressional leader Lee Hamilton.

"Our elections have artificially polarized the debate and left us with a false choice between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run.' But there are a number of options between keeping 160,000 troops on the ground and just pulling out," says James Dobbins, a RAND Corp. national-security expert with conflict-resolution experience in the past three administrations.

GOP ceded the center and paid the price - Los Angeles Times

For six tumultuous years President Bush has provoked intense opposition while mobilizing passionate support for an ambitious conservative agenda. On Tuesday, that perilous strategy crumbled — and triggered his party's abrupt fall from power.

Republicans lost control of the House, and teetered on the edge of losing the Senate as well. The widespread losses will present Bush and the GOP with a sharpened challenge from congressional Democrats eager to command attention for their policy priorities, such as raising the national minimum wage, and to investigate the administration's performance on Iraq, global warming and other issues.

In the long run, the reversals raise fundamental questions about the viability of the strategy Bush and his chief political advisor, Karl Rove, have pursued to build a lasting Republican political majority. Bush and Rove placed their main emphasis on unifying and energizing Republicans and right-leaning independents with an agenda that focused squarely on the goals of conservatives.

But Tuesday's broad Democratic advance underscored the risks in that approach: In many races, Republicans were overwhelmed by an energized Democratic base and a sharp turn toward the Democrats by moderate swing voters unhappy with the president's performance.

Tuesday's election may represent a bookend to the historic Republican landslide in 1994. In that election, Republicans captured the Senate by gaining eight seats and won the House for the first time in 40 years by gaining 52 seats. The engine for the GOP advance was a widespread backlash, both among its core supporters and independent swing voters, when Democratic President Clinton veered left on several key issues after promising to govern as a centrist.

Republicans have controlled the House since then, and the Senate for all but 18 months. But on Tuesday, a political uprising that looked like the mirror image of the voter revolt against Clinton broke the GOP's grip on the House and left Democrats within reach of a Senate majority, depending on final results in Virginia and Montana.

The election saw Democrats strengthen their hold over the regions in the country where they are already strong, with Senate victories in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and House gains in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. At the same time, Democrats pushed into Republican territory with a big Senate win in Ohio, a pick up of three House seats in Indiana, as well as gains in the interior West.

Voters send message in victory for Democrats – Chicago Tribune

Americans finally got to vote on the war. They want change. They got to vote on one-party rule. They rejected it. They got a chance to vote local. They voted national.

No matter what name was on the ballot, to many voters it read "George W. Bush." And for Republicans, for the first time in six years, that was very bad news.

A toxic stew of a war gone bad, politicians gone corrupt and issues not addressed left voters in vengeful mood, clearly voting more against Republicans than for Democrats.

Indeed, the Democrats essentially beat something with nothing. They offered no clear agenda, no Contract with America, not even a memorable bumper sticker. This was an election driven by feelings of rejection far more than embrace.

But they did offer a vessel for change, and voters sent a loud message that the status quo of one-party, highly partisan rule, would no longer do. Theirs was a triumph of tactics more than it was a victory of vision. They surgically selected candidates—vets, cops and jocks—who appealed not to the right or the left, but the often neglected middle. It was about winning, not ideology.

The win was broad and deep, in the Midwest, the Northeast, even in the South and West. They easily retook control of the House and made enough gains in the Senate to have a chance to cobble together a majority with Republican moderates on some issues.

The defeat was most profound for the politician not on the ballot—the president. He campaigned vigorously in the final weeks, arguing that he would not change course in Iraq. He played the card that has sustained his presidency—Republicans were the better stewards of national security—and was trumped badly. He tried to make the case that the economy was strong, and voters were not buying that either.

The war will now come under much harsher scrutiny as Democrats have the power to hold hearings and command a larger share of the public stage. For six years Bush has governed with a steely partisan style, often content to push his agenda on the back of Republican votes alone. That is no longer an option.