WASHINGTON-On Election Night 2008, Republicans gathered in a hotel ballroom in Washington and dolefully watched returns and threw back beers. After losing the majority in the House in 2006, they had lost another 19 seats in 2008. Pundits banished the party to "the political wilderness."
Tuesday night at a hotel ballroom in Washington, the Republican mood was decidedly brighter as they cheered taking the House in a massive sweep of between 60 and 64 seats, as of this writing. The number of victories met the upper end of pollsters' expectations. Around midnight the presumptive speaker of the House John Boehner addressed the raucous Washington crowd chanting, "Speaker! Speaker!"
"Frankly this is not a time to celebrate," Boehner said, ticking off the nation's problems with unemployment and debt. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves."
And indeed, with a Democratic Senate and president, the House Republicans will have many obstacles to accomplish the items on their agenda, outlined in the Pledge to America they released last month, like repealing and replacing healthcare reform. But Boehner felt the wind behind him.
"It was the American people's voice we heard at the ballot box," he said. The message, he added, was that Washington is "on notice." He and other top House Republicans have been careful to say that they don't think their party has won voters affections-rather that voters are simply frustrated with the current status quo. Winning the House back is especially meaningful for Boehner, who was booted from Republican leadership after losses in the 1998 election but came back to win leadership in 2006 and walked Republicans through four years as minority leader. As he's known to do, he broke down in tears as he spoke to the crowded ballroom, thanking friends and family and kissing his wife, Debbie.
The incoming freshman class may be difficult for Boehner to unify-many of them are political newcomers and won on promises of attacking the Washington establishment. Among the freshmen will be a doctor (Scott Desjarlais), a surgeon (Larry Bucshon), a funeral home owner (Steve Southerland), a car dealer (Scott Rigell), and an NFL lineman (John Runyan). The substantive majority Boehner has, though, will give him more leverage with the president to get bills passed and signed into law.
Republicans pulled off victories not just in districts that John McCain won in 2008, but also in many that President Obama had won. After losing all hold in New England in 2008, they won seats back in New York and New Hampshire. And they won most of the races in bellwether Ohio, taking out Democrats Steve Driehaus, Charlie Wilson, Mary Jo Kilroy, John Boccieri, and Zack Space. The GOP also captured the Senate and governor's race there.
Republicans knew they were headed for a big night when two powerful veteran Democrats lost. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., chair of the Budget Committee and a confidant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lost after 28 years in the House. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the chair of the Armed Services committee, also lost after 34 years in the House. Perhaps the most shocking upset of the midterm election was Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., a 35-year incumbent who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and comes from a Democratic district. Pollsters didn't consider his race competitive until the final week of the campaign.
Voters also elected two African-American Republicans to the House-Tim Scott in South Carolina and Allen Boyd in Florida-the first elected since J.C. Watts took office in 1994.
See WORLD's interactive national map for complete election results from across the country.