Voters Deliver Blow to Bush Democrats Triumph in Midterm Elections

Democrats ousted Republicans from power in the House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm elections amid discontent with the Iraq war, corruption and President George W. Bush. They are also on the brink of taking the Senate, where their victory could hinge on a possible recount in Virginia.


The opposition Democrats have triumphed over the Republicans in mid-term elections, dealing US President George W. Bush a blow that is set to weaken him in his final two years in office.

The Democrats gained around 30 seats in the House of Representatives in Tuesday's elections and picked up four of six seats needed for a majority in the Senate. They lead Senate races in two as yet undecided states, Montana and Virginia, and the election in Virginia is so close that a recount may be called.

The election outcome is likely to restrict Bush's legislative agenda and will give Democrats a chance to probe his most controversial policy decisions. The war in Iraq will likely be high on their agenda. The Tuesday election result also makes Democrat Nancy Pelosi the first female Speaker of the House in United States history.

Two years after a decisive election victory for Bush and his Republicans, Democrats picked up at least 22 seats -- seven more than the 15 they needed -- to win control of the House for the first time since 1994, according to TV network projections.

Scandals that have dogged Republicans on Capitol Hill appeared to hurt Republican incumbents even more than Bush's unpopularity and the nearly four-year-old war in Iraq.

Exit polls showed that 42 percent of voters called corruption an extremely important issue in their choices at the polls, followed by terrorism at 40 percent, the economy at 39 percent and the war in Iraq at 37 percent.

"I think this is because many of our voters began to believe we value power over principle," Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told the Fox television channel.

It is still unclear whether the Democrats have won a majority in the Senate though. Democrats have picked up Republican Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Missouri, and held their own threatened Senate seats in New Jersey and Maryland. The Democrats are leading tight races in Montana and Virginia.

A potential recount and possible legal challenges in Virginia could delay the final result, providing a reminder of the 2000 presidential election recount that lasted five weeks.

Virginia Democrat James Webb had an 8,000-vote advantage over Republican Sen. George Allen out of more than 2 million cast. A recount could last into December, leaving Senate control uncertain.

All 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats and 36 governorships were at stake in the elections. A Democratic victory in either house gives the party control of legislative committees that could investigate the Bush administration's most controversial decisions on foreign, military and energy policy.

Karsten Voigt, a German government adviser on German-American relations, said the election outcome meant Bush would be forced to seek consensus positions with the Democrats on key issues including Iraq.

"Even if the Democrats don't win control in the Senate, the mere fact that they won seats will shift the debate there and the president will have to take account of that," said Voigt.

He added that he didn't think a majority of Democrats backed an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, though. "There are no good options for America in Iraq, only a range of options that are less bad," said Voigt, a member of the center-left Social Democrats.

Bush will hold a news conference on Wednesday at 1 p.m. EST (6 p.m. GMT) to urge his opponents to work with him, the White House said. "He'll start by congratulating the winners and extend a hand for bipartisan cooperation to work on the issues facing our country. The elections are over but the issues still remain," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett.

Nancy Pelosi is set to become America's first-ever Speaker of the House.
AFP

Nancy Pelosi is set to become America's first-ever Speaker of the House.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the outcome of the elections was "not what we would've hoped.... But it also gets us to a point: Democrats have spent a lot of time complaining about what the president has done. This is an opportunity for them to kind of stand up," Snow said.

In a campaign dominated by Iraq, Bush defended his handling of the war to the end, despite job approval ratings languishing in the mid-30s. He questioned what Democrats would do differently and predicted Republicans would retain control of Congress.

"There's not a lot we can do to actually force the president to leave Iraq, but ultimately we can have some influence and I think you'll see certainly an attempt by Democrats to change the direction," Democratic Party chief Howard Dean told CNN.

cro/Reuters/AP/CNN

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