Big night at the polls for Democrats

tshoop@govexec.com

Democrats are celebrating the surprisingly successful performance of their candidates around the country in yesterday's midterm congressional elections.

Early this morning, major news outlets were projecting that while the GOP would retain control of the Senate, Democrats would gain five seats in the House.

In the Senate, three Democratic seats were expected to fall into Republican hands, while Democrats were expected to take three Republican seats, CNN reported, leaving the Senate with the same split-55 Republican and 45 Democratic seats-as in the 105th Congress.

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, some experts were predicting that the GOP could gain as many as 35 seats in the House. And in the Senate, Republicans had hoped to pick up five seats to gain a filibuster-proof majority.

The House results were particularly stunning. Only once since the Civil War, in 1934, has the President's party managed to gain House seats in midterm elections. Losses have averaged 27 seats, CNN reported.

"Americans had a choice and they chose progress over partisanship," Vice President Al Gore told reporters. "It's a great night for Democrats and a great night for the country."

GOP leaders struggled to put a positive spin on the results.

"This will be the first time in 70 years that Republicans kept control of the House for a third time," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who swept to victory in his own race.

"When you win, you pick up seats, and that's a win in anybody's election," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Other key Republicans didn't even try to sugarcoat the results.

"This is a good night for Democrats," William Bennett, former Reagan Administration Education Secretary and Bush Administration drug czar, told ABC News. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told ABC that Democratic gains in the House were "an astounding thing."

While Republicans retained control of the Senate, they lost two key races. Al D'Amato of New York was upset by Rep. Charles Schumer, and in North Carolina, Lauch Faircloth fell to Democrat John Edwards, a 45-year old attorney.

At the same time, four Democratic Senators fended off stiff challenges: Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, Barbara Boxer of California, Patty Murray of Washington and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., lost her seat to Republican challenger Peter Fitzgerald.

Key Senators who won reelection included Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., second-ranking Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma, John McCain, R-Ariz., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Rep. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was ahead of Democratic Rep. Scotty Baesler in the race for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Wendell H. Ford by 5,288 votes out of more than 1.1 million cast with 99 percent reporting, CongressDaily reported. While news organizations declared Bunning the winner, Baesler had yet to concede, and a recount may loom on the horizon. A recount may also be on tap in Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Harry Reid at presstime held only a 783-vote lead over GOP Rep. John Ensign with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

On the House side, incumbents of both parties generally fared well. Easy winners included Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

This morning, it appeared there would be 223 Republicans, 211 Democrats and one independent in the House that convenes in January, CongressDaily reported.

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