The independent news organization of Duke University

A changing of the guard

In a sharp rebuke of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, citizens across the country voted Tuesday to shift the balance of power in Washington, handing Republicans control of the House of Representatives and whittling down the Democrats’ Senate majority.

While the Grand Old Party made significant inroads in the Senate, knocking out well-established incumbents like Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Democrats won crucial races in California and Nevada that ensured they would retain control of the body.

In the House, Republicans took advantage of widespread voter discontent to beat a range of Democratic incumbents, many of whom fell victim to their unshakable association with a sagging economy and an unpopular president. As The Chronicle went to press, the GOP had picked up 59 seats, more than enough to guarantee it will control the chamber for the next two years. Sixteen seats remained undecided, according to The New York Times.

“The American people’s voice was heard at the ballot box,” said Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, in declaring victory. “For far too long, Washington has been doing what’s best for Washington, not what’s best for the American people. Tonight, that begins to change.”

In perhaps the most important Senate race, Majority Leader Harry Reid defended his seat against Republican challenger Sharon Angle, who was supported heavily by the Tea Party. And though candidates endorsed by the movement bested their opponents in both Florida’s Senate contest and the race for governor in South Carolina, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons easily beat out the Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell, a Republican.

Still, the Tea Party proved Tuesday it is a force to be reckoned with. In a race pitting two Duke graduates against one another, Rand Paul, Medicine ’88, overcame criticisms of extremism to take Kentucky’s Senate seat over Democratic candidate and state Attorney General Jack Conway, Trinity ’91. Paul enjoyed an enormous advantage in outsider money, much of which came through the Tea Party.

“We’ve come to take our government back,” Paul told a raucous crowd in his victory speech. “They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s most deliberative body. I’m going to ask them to deliberate on this: The American people are unhappy with what’s going on in Washington.”

Although it was an extraordinary election for Republicans, who just two years ago found themselves on the losing end of a historic Presidential election, Democrats in the Senate were breathing sighs of relief Tuesday night. California Sen. Barbara Boxer fended off a forceful challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin managed to hold on to the seat vacated by Sen. Robert Byrd upon his death. And in Connecticut, Democratic Secretary of State Richard Blumenthal overcame an early campaign gaffe—he falsely claimed to have served in the Vietnam War—to win his Senate bid.

Republicans also took control of the nation’s governorships, winning important races in Michigan and Tennessee, and notably knocking out Gov. Ted Strickland in Ohio. In a rare bright spot for Democrats, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick retained his seat.

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