WASHINGTON — America awoke to a new political dynamic Wednesday with sharper dividing lines in an already divided government, forcing President Barack Obama to recalibrate his approach and giving Republican leaders in Congress new muscle to check him.
The president scheduled an afternoon news conference to offer his take on an Election Day thumping of Democrats that gave Republicans control of the Senate, strengthened the GOP hold on the House and put a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors.
One of Obama’s first post-election calls was to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, positioned to become the new Senate majority leader and confront the president over his signature health care law and on other issues. The two didn’t connect, but Obama left a message for the senator.
Republicans took over formerly Democratic Senate seats in seven states, including GOP-leaning Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. That number also included three states that figured prominently in Obama’s two victorious presidential campaigns: Iowa and Colorado, where he won twice, and North Carolina, where he won in 2008. Republicans needed a net gain of six seats in all to win back the majority for the first time since 2006.
“Thanks to you, Iowa, we are headed to Washington, and we are going to make them squeal,” declared Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, who vowed to cut pork in Washington in television ads that memorably cited her growing up castrating hogs.
In the House, Republicans were on track to meet or exceed the 246 seats they held during President Harry S. Truman’s administration more than 60 years ago.
“We are humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed with us, but this is not a time for celebration,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “It’s time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy.”
In state capitols, Republicans were poised to leave their imprint, picking up governors’ seats in reliably Democratic states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. With Congress grappling with gridlock, states have been at the forefront of efforts to raise the minimum wage and implement Obama’s health care law.
Many Republican governors seeking re-election had struggled with poor approval ratings but prevailed, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who defeated Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
Voters expressed bitterness with a sluggish economic recovery and the nation’s handling of foreign crises. Nearly two-thirds of voters interviewed after casting ballots said the country was seriously on the wrong track. Only about 30 percent said the nation was headed in the right direction.
More than 4 in 10 voters disapproved of both Obama and Congress, according to the exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.
Obama’s poor approval ratings turned him into a liability for Democrats seeking re-election. The outcome offered parallels to the sixth year of Republican George W. Bush’s presidency, when Democrats won sweeping victories amid voter discontent with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With lawmakers planning to return to Washington next week for a post-election session, Obama invited congressional leaders to a meeting Friday.
Democrats had few bright spots. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, who campaigned with potential 2016 candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton last weekend, both won re-election. In Pennsylvania, businessman Tom Wolf dispatched GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.
Here’s a look at some of the results:
Senate Republicans tagged their Democratic opponents with voting in lockstep with Obama and it worked. The GOP prevailed in Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner ousted first-term Democrat Mark Udall, and Iowa, where state Sen. Joni Ernst defeated Rep. Bruce Braley. In North Carolina, state House speaker Thom Tillis defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. In Arkansas, freshman Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. Republicans secured wins in South Dakota (former Gov. Mike Rounds), Montana (Rep. Steve Daines) and West Virginia (Rep. Shelley Moore Capito). In Alaska, first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich faced Republican Dan Sullivan, while Louisiana was headed for a Dec. 6 runoff between three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who leads the Republican Governors Association, was one of the night’s biggest winners after campaigning for dozens of candidates. Republicans scored victories with Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts. Potential presidential candidates like Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan won re-election.
House Republicans defeated 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall in West Virginia and Rep. John Barrow in Georgia while defending the seat of Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican who faces a 20-count indictment on tax fraud and other charges. College professor Dave Brat won a House seat in Virginia, several months after he stunned Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.
Voters in Oregon and the District of Columbia approved ballot measures allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults. Oregon will join the ranks of Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved the recreational use of pot two years ago. The District of Columbia could move in that direction unless Congress, which has review power, blocks the move. Alaska voters were also considering marijuana-legalization measures on its ballot.