WASHINGTON (BP)–American voters delivered Nov. 2 a sharp rebuke to the Democrats’ governance the last two years, assuring a more conservative Congress but giving Republicans control of only one chamber.
The Republican Party picked up more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, wresting the majority away from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her party. The GOP caucus also made up ground in the Senate, achieving a net gain of at least six seats, but the Democrats will still have a majority caucus of 51 or more members.
Republican victories at the state level were also impressive. In governorships, the GOP went from 24 to 29, with four races still to be decided.
The House swing was the largest for either party since the Democrats added 75 seats in 1948.
Southern Baptist public policy specialist Richard Land described it Nov. 3 as “an historic election” that “will be looked upon in the future as an election that changed the political landscape of the country.”
As of 3 p.m. (EDT) Nov. 3, the vote totals as reported by CNN were:
— In the House, Republicans led 239-185 in seats, with no winner called in 11 races. Before the election, Democrats had a majority of 255-178, with two seats vacant.
— In the Senate, Democrats held a 50-46 advantage, not counting two independents and two races that had yet to be decided. The two independents caucus with the Democrats, and the winner in Alaska, either Independent Lisa Murkowski or Republican Joe Miller, is expected to caucus with the GOP. So, the count is 52-47, in effect, with the winner in Washington still undetermined. The Democratic caucus held a 59-41 advantage before the election.
— In governorships, the GOP led 29-16, with a newly elected independent and four undecided races not included.
The results followed nearly two years of divisive skirmishes over such Democratic-promoted measures as an economic stimulus and health-care reform. Large numbers of Americans expressed their dissatisfaction with the actions by President Obama and Congress, birthing the Tea Party movement. Health-care reform, which was enacted in March, became even more unpopular after its effects became better known.
An already weak economy that continued to decline after Obama took office in 2009 with a strongly Democratic Congress was at the forefront of voters’ minds, according to exit polls. The surveys showed 62 percent of voters named the economy as their most important issue this year, while health care placed second at 19 percent.
Obama said at a Nov. 3 news conference, “I think that there is no doubt that people’s number one concern is the economy. And what they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven’t made enough progress on the economy.”
The president said he had told House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky the night before he looked forward to working with them.
Boehner, who is in line to replace Pelosi as speaker, said, “We’re humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us. As I said last night, our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people. It’s pretty clear the American people want us to do something about cutting spending here in Washington and helping to create an environment where we get jobs back in our country. We’ve got a big job ahead of us.”
Land said Republicans should not misread the election results.
“This was clearly a rejection at a basic level of the president’s economic policies and Obamacare,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“However, it was not an affirmation of the Republican Party. It was a decision by a majority of the American people to give the Republicans one more chance to cut the size of government, cut government spending, and repeal and start over with health-care reform,” Land said. “The Republican establishment in Washington would do well to listen to the 60-plus House freshmen who are coming to Congress straight from the real world.”
Pro-life organizations were highly successful in supporting new pro-life candidates and in opposing Democrats who previously had pro-life records but chose to vote for the version of the health-care bill that became law and permits federal funds to be used for health care plans that cover abortions.
The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, which underwrites the campaigns of pro-life candidates, reported 15 of these 20 “pro-life” Democrats, as it described them, it targeted because of their health-care votes lost their races. Americans United for Life Action said 11 of the 12 candidates it opposed because of their support of abortion funding failed to win.
“By defeating 15 of 20 [of] these self-described pro-life Democrats, we have sent a clear message to Washington that voting against the deeply held pro-life views of your constituency has serious political consequences,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement.
Among the GOP women identified by SBA List as pro-life and newly elected Nov. 2 were:
— In the Senate, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
— In the House, Sandy Adams of Florida, Diane Black of Tennessee, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Jaime Herrera of Washington and Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
— As governors, U.S. Representative Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Susanna Martinez in New Mexico.
While some Democratic representatives lost after voting for a health-care bill tainted by abortion funding, some strongly pro-life members of the party lost in spite of opposing the legislation, including Southern Baptists Bobby Bright of Alabama, Travis Childers of Mississippi and Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, as well as 10-term member Gene Taylor of Mississippi.
In addition to Taylor, other longtime Democratic congressmen who fell in the GOP wave were James Oberstar of Minnesota (18 terms), Ike Skelton of Missouri (17), Rick Boucher of Virginia (14), John Spratt of South Carolina (14), Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania (13) and Chet Edwards of Texas (10).
Black Republicans won two seats, giving the GOP its first African-American congressmen since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma left office in 2003. Tim Scott won in South Carolina, and Allen West was elected in Florida.
In the Senate, Republicans won Democratic seats in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survived a difficult race, turning back Sharron Angle, a member of a Southern Baptist church.
Land said the “most lasting impact” of the election will be the GOP wins in the states, especially the populous ones.
“The Republicans won the governors’ mansions in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and half a dozen other states, and carried the state legislatures as well,” he said. “The impact that this has after the census this year is difficult to adequately describe.
“Political experts will tell you that having the ability to control the redistricting process in states like the ones mentioned above, as well as Florida and Texas, where Republicans retained governorships, could make as much of a difference as 30 seats in the House of Representatives in every election for the next 10 years,” Land said. “The dramatic gains Republicans made in governorships and state legislatures will make it much more difficult for Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives until at least 2020 and the next census.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.