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WRAP-UP: Democrats post gains in both chambers

WASHINGTON (BP)–For the first time since 1994, Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives and also may claim control of the Senate after the Nov. 7 mid-term elections. The swing in control was largely a referendum on the war in Iraq, Democratic leaders across the country said.

Democrats gained 27 seats in the House, giving them a clear majority, but victory in the Senate was not as clearly evident. Less than 7,000 votes separated Senate candidates in Virginia -– where absentee ballots and late-reporting precincts had yet to be counted -– while Senate candidates in Montana were separated by less than 4,000 votes. Though unlikely in Montana, the elections may result in recounts, making control of the Senate uncertain for days or weeks.

Gains in the House likely will mean the election of Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, a position which makes the San Francisco liberal third in line for the presidency. New York’s liberal Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel likely will serve as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which formulates tax law.

Pelosi, in a post-election news conference, promised “the most honest, ethical and open Congress in the history of the United States,” apparently an indication that she will call for investigations into the run-up to the Iraq war and congressional scandals, once she assumes the post. Pelosi also called for a “redeployment” of troops away from Iraq to Afghanistan, calling President Bush’s policy in Iraq catastrophic. She said the war in Iraq had not made the United States safer, had not honored the troops involved and had not made Iraq more stable.

“We are prepared to govern and we will do so, working together with the administration and with the Republicans in Congress in partnership, not in partisanship,” Pelosi said at a post-election rally last night. Previously, however, Pelosi called President Bush a “liar,” “dangerous” and the “emperor with no clothes.”

President Bush dismissed the past comments in a news conference today. “If you hold grudges in this business, you’ll never get anything done,” Bush said.

The president acknowledged that many Americans “registered their displeasure with the lack of progress” in Iraq via the election. And while he hopes to “launch a new era of cooperation” in Washington, he said American troops would not leave Iraq without a clear victory in the war on terror.

“To our enemies: Do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will,” Bush said. He added that the United States may adjust its strategy, but it will still seek to bring terrorists to justice.

“I’d like our troops to come home too, but I want them to come with victory,” Bush said, following his announcement that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had resigned. Bush nominated Robert Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and current president of Texas A&M University, to serve as the new defense secretary.

More than 200 ballot measures in states across the country also resulted in some disappointment for conservatives. Voters in South Dakota declined to outlaw virtually all abortions in the state, while a constitutional marriage amendment in Arizona prohibiting “gay marriage” was trailing with 99 percent of the precincts reported, although supporters were still hoping it could win.

Despite the disappointments, voters in seven other states -– Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin –- approved constitutional amendments banning “same-sex marriage.” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the approval of the marriage amendments in the seven states was a victory for traditional, biblical family values.

“It was a much better night for marriage than it was for Republicans,” Land said. “Seven of eight states in which voters considered bans on ‘same-sex marriage’ passed them…. In Colorado, where the measure included a ban on domestic partnership benefits as well, the initiative lost very narrowly. In Colorado, not only did a ban on ‘same-sex marriage’ pass, but a ban on partner benefits also prevailed. In Wisconsin, a notably liberal state, 59 percent of the voters voted to constitutionally ban both same-sex marriage and any type of civil unions similar to marriage.”

The South Dakota abortion ban, which would have extended even to cases of incest and rape, lost by a 55-45 margin. The measure was opposed by third-term Republican State Rep. Casey Murschel, who recently was named executive director of the South Dakota branch of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Nancy Keenan, NARAL’s national president, called the amendment’s defeat a victory for those who fought against “intrusion into personal, private decisions.”

“South Dakotans reaffirmed that the right to choose should between a woman, her doctor, her family, and her God -– not legislators or Gov. Mike Rounds,” Keenan said. “This is a wakeup call to lawmakers in other states that America’s pro-choice majority will not allow an assault on Roe v. Wade to go unanswered.”

That GOP losses would be heavy was evident in early projections that Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mike Dewine of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island each fell to their Democratic opponent. Chafee had distanced himself from President Bush’s Iraq policy and other conservative party issues, but his effort still failed.

Santorum, who had been mentioned by Republicans as being among the 2008 pro-life, presidential hopefuls, said he was disappointed with the results of the election but proud to have served the people of Pennsylvania.

“There are a lot of things that we did that were really important,” Santorum said in his concession speech. “We stood up for things like the family. We stood up for the most vulnerable, particularly those in the earliest stages of life and at the end of life. And we didn’t forget about all those in between.”

Santorum then noted: “[W]e didn’t back away from any of those principals or the most important one that we’ve talked about, and that is we didn’t back away from the great threat that confronts this country from overseas. As all the political pundits — maybe correctly now — were saying, ‘Why did you go out and talk about those unpopular things like the war and why did you talk about things that are future threats like North Korea and Venezuela and Iran?’ … [W]hat senators and leaders are supposed to do is talk about things that our country confronts in the future…. I do not rescind a word because those words are words that this country was not receptive to hear tonight, but they are going to continue to hear them from me and I assure you from many others … to stop that threat before it becomes too serious a threat to the future of our country.”

Incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia had hoped for a large turnout of social conservatives in the election, where voters also were deciding on his state’s marriage amendment. That amendment passed, but Allen still trails Democrat Jim Webb, who describes himself as a “conservative Democrat,” even though he opposed the state’s same-sex marriage amendment. Webb has declared victory in the race, despite the potential recount.

“The lesson that should be learned from this election,” Land said, “is that George Allen, who appears to be on the verge of losing re-election to the U.S. Senate, chose to run a campaign based on character and personality rather than on social conservative issues. It should be noted that he received less than fifty percent of the vote while the pro-traditional marriage on the ballot in Virginia received nearly 57 percent of the vote.

“Clearly as The Washington Post and others have editorialized today, yesterday’s election results were less a vote of confidence in Democrats, but a vote against Republicans and Republican leadership,” Land said. “Furthermore, many of the Democratic candidates who won last night were social conservatives and were from the more moderate sector of the Democratic Party. Bob Casey, the new senator from Pennsylvania is famously pro-life and from a well-known pro-life family. Heath Shuler, who is the new Democrat congressman from western North Carolina, is pro-life, pro-gun, and an evangelical Christian, as were numerous of the newly minted Democratic congressmen.”

The victory of several Democrats who “ran to the right” in Senate and House races across the country is proof that “the Democratic Party has learned that being a party of the hard left -– not even allowing candidates to run who are conservatives –- was a major reason for them so losing so dramatically over the last decade,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. Wright said these Democrats had “portrayed themselves as being pro-life, as being pro-family, as being conservative. And now the question will be, ‘Will they vote consistent with the image that they put forward to their constituents?’ We certainly want to work with them to help them live up to those promises and to that image.”

In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent in a hotly contested election that centered mainly on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. McCaskill, the state’s auditor, supported a ballot initiative to protect all forms of the research. Voters approved the measure by a 51-49 margin. Opponents of the measure contended that it would involve a cloning procedure and the destruction of the embryos.

In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele fell short in his bid to wrestle a Senate seat from Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin. But in Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker defeated Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who a month ago looked as if he possibly could be the first black senator from a southern state since the Reconstruction era. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who ran as an independent following his loss in the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont earlier this year, also won his seat. Lieberman said he will caucus with Democrats.

In other ballot measures, voters in Colorado and Nevada refused to legalize marijuana. Five states -– Arizona, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada and Montana — approved increases in the minimum wage, with results still uncertain in Colorado. Voters in several states also voted to reject the doctrine of imminent domain, which allows the government to confiscate private property for public use.

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  • Gregory Tomlin