TOPICS > Politics

Republicans Score Biggest House Takeover in 70 Years

November 3, 2010 at 4:18 PM EDT
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A day after Republican victories across the country took back House control, pledges came from the GOP to cut spending and shrink government. Meanwhile, Democrats pledged cooperation and took stock of their losses. Gwen Ifill and David Chalian wrap up the wins and losses.
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GWEN IFILL: Political aftershocks echoed in Washington and around the country today, after Republicans scored resounding victories in the midterm elections. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives lay in ruins, and the two sides began to assess what it all means.

In a decided swing of the political pendulum, Republicans regained control of the House, just four years after losing it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: And, although Democrats retained a narrow majority in the Senate, the GOP also made aggressive inroads in that chamber, as well as in the nation’s statehouses.

By the time the dust settled early today, Republicans had scored the largest party turnover in 70 years, picking up at least 60 seats in the House by decimating Democratic strongholds in the South and the Midwest. A handful of races still haven’t been called.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: House Minority Leader John Boehner, the likely next speaker of the House, was the face of the Republican rout. He grew emotional last night as he recounted the path to victory.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: I have spent my whole life chasing the American dream.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: Among those ousted, a number of veteran Democratic leaders, including 17-term Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, 15-term Minnesota lawmaker James Oberstar, 16-term Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, and 13-term Pennsylvania Congressman Paul Kanjorski.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up at least six seats, and, by late this afternoon, two races in Alaska and Washington State remained too close to call.

MAN: Give Michael Bennet a big, big round of applause.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: And Colorado incumbent Michael Bennet was only able to claim victory this afternoon.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-Colo.): Change is hard, that we can’t get it done overnight, but that we can get it done together. This is definitely a race for the record books.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.), Majority Leader: It’s back to work for the people of Nevada.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: In one of the most watched races of this election season, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid managed to survive a tight contest in Nevada. Next on his agenda, he said: finding middle ground.

SEN. HARRY REID: The founding fathers, in their wisdom, said that the House of Representatives is going to be different than the Senate. And the only way you can get things done today in the Senate and in 1789 in the Senate was with compromise. You have to work together.

I’m hopeful and confident that, when the dust settles, the Republicans will no longer want to stop everything.

GWEN IFILL: Reid defeated Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle.

SHARRON ANGLE (R-Nev.), senatorial candidate: And we the people have been awakened over the last 20 months. And it’s been an incredible journey, from being asleep to being awakened to constitutional principles and to love of country I have never seen.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats were not as lucky in the president’s home state of Illinois, where Republican Mark Kirk bested Obama favorite Alexi Giannoulias.

MARK KIRK (R-Ill.), senator-elect: We are 800 miles from any ocean, but a tsunami just hit the heartland.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAT TOOMEY (R-Pa.), Senator-Elect: Thank you, Pennsylvania.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: And, in the Keystone State, Republican Pat Toomey defeated another Democratic hopeful, Congressman Joe Sestak.

PAT TOOMEY: We have got to end the — the threats of the excessive government regulation and the huge out-of-control role that Washington has begun to play.

GWEN IFILL: The roll call of casualties continued throughout the night: Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln losing to Republican John Boozman; Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson beating three-term Democrat Senator Russ Feingold.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-Wis.): My friends, the people of Wisconsin have spoken, and I respect their decision. I have called Ron Johnson and congratulated him and wished him…

(BOOING)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: … and wished him well as our senator. And I also offered my help and the help of my staff in any transition.

GWEN IFILL: But, in West Virginia, Democratic Governor Joe Manchin held onto the Senate seat formerly held by Robert Byrd. And, in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal defeated wrestling executive Linda McMahon.

The anti-establishment Tea Party movement claimed victories in several key races. In Florida, Marco Rubio beat back a challenge from Democrat Kendrick Meek, as well as from Governor Charlie Crist, who switched parties to run as an independent.

Today, Rubio said voters were sending a strong message.

MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.), senator-elect: You better not go up there and become like everybody else we have voted for, because, if you do, you will never get a third chance, and, more importantly, our country will suffer.

GWEN IFILL: And, in Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul beat Democrat Jack Conway.

RAND PAUL (R-KY), senator-elect: We have come to take our government back!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CHRISTINE O’DONNELL (R-Del.), senatorial candidate: I want to thank everyone who made this possible .

GWEN IFILL: But some Tea Party candidates did fall short, including Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who lost to Democrat Chris Coons.

CHRIS COONS (D-Del.), senator-elect: And, so, tonight, I pledge to you, to all the working families across Delaware, that I will work tirelessly to get our state and our nation back on track.

GWEN IFILL: The same tide that swept congressional Republicans into office also transformed governor’s mansions. Republican businessman Rick Scott claimed victory in an extremely tight Florida governor’s race.

RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.), governor-elect: With this election, they sent a message loud and — loud and clear. They said, let’s get to work.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: Overall, 11 governorships flipped from Democrat to Republican, Pennsylvania and Ohio among them.

JOHN KASICH (R), Ohio Governor-Elect: We don’t owe anything to anybody. We’re going to do it the right way and turn the page on American politics.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: And voters also engineered a change in power in the nation’s state legislatures, with at least 18 state legislatures switching to Republican from Democrat, a net gain of 500 seats.

After months of rancorous debate and neck-and-neck competition, the voters finally got their say yesterday.

To understand the message they sent, we take a look now at who voted how and why with “NewsHour” political director David Chalian.

Get some sleep last night, David?

DAVID CHALIAN: A very little bit, about probably the same much as you, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: Enough. Last week and the last several weeks, we heard the president going around the country saying, if you vote for me in the way you did in 2008, we can win this thing.

Well, obviously, that didn’t happen. Who showed up and who didn’t for the Democrats?

DAVID CHALIAN: One calculation, by the way, today showed that 29 million of his voters from 2008 didn’t show up, a 29 million voter drop-off from the Obama vote.

GWEN IFILL: Wow.

DAVID CHALIAN: But you’re right. The base voters, he was targeting very hard. Take a look at this in the Democratic base.

You have 18-to-29-year-olds over the course of the last three elections right — in 2006, the young people made up 12 percent of the electorate. In 2008, a presidential year, they jumped up to 18 percent — back down to 11 percent. So, it didn’t work there. Didn’t work with the African-Americans. They moved back down to 10 percent, their normal midterm turnout.

And Hispanics moved back down to 8 percent. So, that $30 million effort, Gwen, that the DNC put in to touch all those first-time Obama voters, young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, it didn’t not actually increase their participation from what we saw them do in 2006.

GWEN IFILL: So, midterm to midterm, it was just normal midterm turnout?

DAVID CHALIAN: And they needed that 2008-style presidential turnout to try and keep this wave at bay.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Hispanic voters for a while, because, if you look at them nationally, there wasn’t that much of an increase in turnout. But, if you look in targeted races, like Nevada, for instance, where Harry Reid held on, it made a difference, didn’t it?

DAVID CHALIAN: Nevada, it made the clearest difference overall. First of all, they had some record turnout — 16 percent of the electorate there in Nevada was Hispanic.

And Harry Reid’s operation long claimed to be the best get-out-the-vote operation in the country. I think his margin of victory proved that that was probably true. And a lot of that had to do with the Latino vote.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Let’s talk about the winners of the evening.

We heard the Republicans — the Republicans mounted an anti-establishment, Tea Party-fueled assault on the Democratic majority. And it seemed to work. How did they do it?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, the Tea Party fueled the energy. But what — the biggest effect for the Republican Party was being able to win over independents.

Take a look at these numbers, Gwen, about independent voters. In 2006, when Democrats swept into control of the House, independents split 57 percent for Democrats, 38 percent — sorry — 39 percent for Republicans. 2010, the exact flip — 56 percent of independents went to Republicans; 38 percent went to Democrats.

That right there is the biggest story of the election.

GWEN IFILL: Who are these independents?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, they claim to be moderate, sort of in the middle of the road. They live in the suburbs. They live throughout the Midwest. There — it is a big target, Midwestern suburbs. They live obviously throughout the whole country.

But they’re not your partisan rabble-rousers. They are the swing vote. So, when — in ’06 and ’08, when things were going the Democratic way, it was because they had independents on their side. The president and the Democrats, with the spending, the deficit issues that we saw that was top of mind, economy and jobs lost, communicating to independent voters, lost their ability to sway them to their cause.

GWEN IFILL: So, the message that they were asking for was, do something about my underwater mortgage, do something about the jobless rate, and they were not getting that message answered?

DAVID CHALIAN: You couldn’t be more spot on — 41 percent of the voters that went to the polls yesterday said that they are worse off financially. Their home financial situation is worse than it was two years ago. Of those people, they favored Republicans by 30 percent of the vote, Gwen.

I mean, that — the Republicans were able to tap into and speak to the people who felt the economic pressure that so many Americans are feeling throughout the last couple of years.

GWEN IFILL: When you took a — take a look at the guys, the bums who were thrown out, and you realize how long, the collective amount of time, they had all been in Washington, you wonder whether this was a vote for the Republicans or just against the people who were there.

DAVID CHALIAN: There’s no doubt that there was an element of just cleaning house, get everyone out of there that’s in charge — and, obviously, the Democrats were in charge of a lot more seats — because we did see these old dogs go, not — not just the freshmen and sophomores who had collected a lot of Republican turf, right, and were sitting in places that perhaps Democrats didn’t even belong, because of those big waves in 2006 and 2008.

But you saw in that taped piece that, when you have somebody like Ike Skelton, when you have somebody like John Spratt, the budget chairman, go, it didn’t matter what your record was. It didn’t matter where your votes were. What mattered was that there was a D after your name and the opposition was able to paint you as part of Pelosi-Obama.

GWEN IFILL: We heard Harry Reid say in that taped piece that, we have got to find some way to get together. The House and the Senate are different kinds of bodies.

We’re going to hear in a while from the president saying something like that as well. Is that part of the message as well, that there’s this huge demand for bipartisanship? Or are people saying, we just don’t want to do what you want?

DAVID CHALIAN: How about this number? Seventy-four percent describe themselves as dissatisfied or even angry at the way government works.

That — broken, a broken government is what the electorate was screaming about. And there’s no doubt that part of what they said with their vote is, please get it together, folks in Washington. We want you to start working in a way that actually affects our lives in a positive way, so that we don’t have to sit here and scream that we’re angry at a broken government.

Seventy-four percent of the country angry or dissatisfied with government, I mean, that — that’s just a number that no incumbent party is going to be able to beat back successfully.

GWEN IFILL: And that no one can afford to ignore. David Chalian, thanks again.

DAVID CHALIAN: My pleasure.