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Key Races Remain Close on Election Night

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Key Races Remain Close on Election Night

Key Races Remain Close on Election Night

Key Races Remain Close on Election Night

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Just as polls predicted, many of the key races for the Senate and House went down to the wire. Elections in Virginia and Montana were so close that control of the Senate was still not clear Wednesday.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Throughout today's program, we're reporting on key races for Congress and for governor across the nation.

And we begin with NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: The Democratic wave might not have been a tsunami, but it was a healthy tide - big enough to sweep in a handful of new Democratic senators and enough new Democratic Congress members to give the party quite a bit more than the 15 seats they needed to regain control of the House. Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the man who recruited this year's crop of successful challengers, promised voters that come January, they can expect ethics reform, a minimum wage hike and a new plan to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois; Chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee): It's time for the endless campaign to stop and the hard work of governing to begin.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Rep. EMANUEL: And this is our pledge to you: you have given us a chance to turn this country around, and we'll give you the government that no longer lets you down.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: And Nancy Pelosi, who will become the first female speaker in history, said the election results were a clear message to the Bush administration on one issue above all: the war in Iraq.

Rep. PELOSI: We cannot continue down this catastrophic path. And so we say to the president, Mr. President, we need a new direction in Iraq.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: The first harbingers of the Democratic sweep last night came in the conservative Ohio River Valley, where Democrats defeated all three of the Indiana House Republicans in close races: John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel. Right across the border in Kentucky, Anne Northup was defeated. Democrats also won a handful of close seats in Pennsylvania and in Ohio, where Democrats picked up the Senate seat of Republican incumbent Mike DeWine. The Democratic challenger, Sherrod Brown, had been ahead of DeWine for some time, but in Missouri, the race had been a cliffhanger for months. The candidates were tied in the polls until last night, when Republican incumbent Jim Talent was narrowly defeated by Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Representative CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): Tonight, we have heard the voices of Missourians, and they have said we want change.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: In other Senate races, Democrats defeated Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, who last night prodded his supporters to join with him in congratulating his opponent, Bob Casey, Jr.

Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): He ran an excellent campaign. I know he'll be - he is a fine man, and he'll do a fine job for Pennsylvania. Please give him a round of applause. Please. Come on, give it up. Give him a round of applause.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Casey, who is pro-life and pro-gun rights, is representative of the kind of candidates Democrats recruited this year to win races in culturally conservative states and districts.

Senator BOB CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): And we know that in 1776, Pennsylvania is where America started. And tonight, Pennsylvania is where the new direction for America begins.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: No Democrat in the House or Senate was defeated last night. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez did have a close race, but in the end, the blue state of New Jersey reverted to form, breaking for the Democrats in the closing days of the race. Menendez, who came to the U.S. from Cuba when he was a child, declared victory last night.

Senator BOB MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): Only in America - and especially in New Jersey - could the son of a seamstress who grew up poor, the first in his family to go to college, be chosen by his neighbors to be one of their voices in the United States Senate. Thank you, New Jersey.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: New England became a lot more Democratic last night, as Democrats picked up House seats in Connecticut and New Hampshire, and defeated Lincoln Chafee, the Republican Senator in Rhode Island. The Democratic winner in that race is former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse told NPR last night that despite the personal popularity of Chafee, Rhode Island voters decided it was more important to vote for a Democratic Senate in the hopes of getting action on health care, the war and education.

Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): They believe that sending Lincoln Chafee down - as good a fellow as he might be - will actually prevent those problems from being solved, because he'll continue to propagate the Republican leadership that is responsible for the problems.

LIASSON: The only new Republican in the Senate next year will be Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who won the open seat vacated by retiring majority leader Bill Frist. Corker defeated Harold Ford, Jr. in a bitter, closely contested campaign in Tennessee.

In governor's races, Democrats picked up the state house in New York, Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, and in Massachusetts. Former Clinton administration Justice Department official Deval Patrick made history - he becomes the second African-American governor in history.

Exit polls showed that opposition to President Bush was a motivating factor. One-third of voters told pollsters their vote for a Democrat was a vote against the president. Corruption was the top issue cited by voters, followed closely by terrorism, the economy and Iraq.

Andy Kohut is the director of the Pew Research Center poll. He says that corruption helped Democrats make inroads with the same group of values voters that helped Republicans win in 2004.

Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center Poll): This corruption issue I think might have taken some votes away from the Republicans among white, evangelical Protestants. A fair number of them voted Democratic - more voted Democratic than voted for Senator Kerry two years ago. And they were very concerned about corruption, and this series of bad things that has happened in Washington over the past two years has taken a toll on the party that controls Washington.

LIASSON: After 12 years in the minority, Democrats will finally return to power in the House, and when they do, they'll have to find some unity on issues like Iraq and trade and energy. But for the moment, Democratic winners like Baron Hill of Indiana were content to savor their victory.

Mr. BARON HILL (Democratic Congressional Candidate, Indiana): I want to look at all my friends and neighbors who have gathered here this evening and say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the support that you gave me. And we're going to sing Happy Days are Here Again tonight.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. HILL: So let's do it. Let's do it. Thank you very much.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Happy days are here again...

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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