Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans today with an upset victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994.
WASHINGTON – Democrats completed an improbable double-barreled election sweep of Congress on Wednesday, taking control of the Senate with a victory in Virginia as they padded their day-old majority in the House.
Jim Webb’s victory over Sen. George Allen in Virginia assured Democrats of 51 seats when the Senate convenes in January. That marked a gain of six in midterm elections in which the war in Iraq and President Bush were major issues.
Earlier, State Sen. Jon Tester triumphed over Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in a long, late count in Montana.
With a handful of House races too close to call, Democrats had gained 28 seats, enough to regain the majority after 12 years of Republican rule and place Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in line to become the first female speaker in history.
“It was a thumping,” Bush conceded at the White House. “It’s clear the Democrat Party had a good night.”
Allen’s campaign issued a statement noting that state officials are conducting a canvass of the votes cast in Tuesday’s balloting.
“At the conclusion of those efforts, Senator George Allen plans to make a statement regarding the outcome,” it said.
It had been clear for weeks leading up to the election that Democrats were strongly positioned to challenge Republicans for House control.
But Democats began the year with fewer seats than at any time since Herbert Hoover occupied the White House. Even the party leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, mused aloud at one point that it might take a miracle to capture Senate control.
Webb’s win capped a banner election year for Democrats, who benefited from the voters’ desire issue a searing rebuke of the status quo.
The president, who spoke of spending his political capital after his successful re-election two years ago, acknowledged, “As the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility.”
With power on Capitol Hill tilting, Bush faced the reality of at least half of Congress in the opposition’s hands for the final two years of his presidency. He announced that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats have demanded.
The war in Iraq, scandals in Congress and declining support for Bush and Republicans on Capitol Hill defined the battle for House and Senate control, with the public embracing the Democrats’ call for change to end a decade of one-party rule in Washington.
“This new Democratic majority has heard the voices of the American people,” said Pelosi, the California Democrat in line to become the nation’s first female House speaker, adding that Americans placed their trust in Democrats. “We will honor that trust. We will not disappoint.” With the GOP booted from power, lame-duck Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announced he will not run for leader of House Republicans when Democrats take control in January.
“Obviously I wish my party had won,” Hastert said in a statement that added he intends to return to the “full-time task” of representing his Illinois constituents.