Democrats Take House by a Wide Margin
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Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): I've got to congratulate what will be, I believe, speaker-designate Pelosi to be congratulated as first woman speaker. My goal and job will be to make sure she never sets the record that Denny Hastert has in the House, that be one of the longest serving
INSKEEP: That's the Republican congressman who was in charge of keeping Dennis Hastert speaker of the House. Tom Reynolds kept his own seat in New York, but too many of his fellow Republicans weren't so lucky. NPR's Brian Naylor reports this morning on what happened and why.
BRIAN NAYLOR: In 1994, the Republican revolution ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House. Not since then has there been the kind of sweep of an incumbent party as occurred yesterday. This time it was the Republicans who were purged by Democratic candidates who campaigned on little more than the promise of change.
One of the first incumbents to fall was Republican Nancy Johnson, who served 12 terms in the House, longer than any House member ever had from Connecticut. But despite her seniority and power, she was undone by Democratic state Senator Chris Murphy, who linked Johnson with President Bush and criticized her support for the war in Iraq. He addressed his cheering supporters last night.
Representative CHRIS MURPHY (Democrat, Connecticut): Let's talk about what this election means tonight, and we hope what it means across this country. It means that for the millions of people around this country who are uninsured, for the millions more seniors across this country who are struggling to pay for their health care, it means that after today things will change.
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NAYLOR: Nancy Johnson's colleague from the House Ways and Means Committee, Clay Shaw of Florida, next in line to become chairman of the panel, was another senior member to fall, ousted by Democrat Ron Klein. Not just one but both Republican members from New Hampshire - Charles Bass and Jeb Bradley - were defeated; as were three GOP members from Indiana: Chris Chocola, John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel. Sodrel lost to former Democratic Congressman Baron Hill.
Mr. BARON HILL (Representative, Indiana): We've got a Congress I think that now has the opportunity to ask the tough questions of this administration and to clean up the mess in Washington, D.C.
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NAYLOR: At least three Republican incumbents from New York and at least three from Pennsylvania lost yesterday. New York Republican Sue Kelly was defeated by Democrat John Hall, well known to fans of the pop group Orleans. In Arizona, Republican J.D. Hayworth lost, and Democrats easily picked up an open seat in the Tucson area.
Nearly all GOP incumbents tied to scandals were defeated. In Pennsylvania, Curt Weldon, who faces an FBI investigation into whether he illegally steered federal contracts to family members, lost to retired Navy Vice Admiral Joe Sestak. Pennsylvania Republican Don Sherwood, who allegedly physically abused his mistress, lost to Democrat Christopher Carney.
In Ohio, the seat vacated by Republican Bob Ney, who pleaded guilty as part of the Abramoff influence peddling scandal, went to Democrat Zack Space. The seat vacated by Texas Republican Tom DeLay was won by former Congressman Nick Lampson. And the Florida seat left open when Republican Mark Foley resigned was won by Democrat Tim Mahoney.
There were a few bright spots for the GOP. Connecticut Republican Chris Shays won a narrow victory in his suburban district, despite the unpopularity of the war and the president.
Representative CHRIS SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): This is the most important point I can make tonight: Tell the American people the truth and they'll tell you the right thing to do.
NAYLOR: But Shays was a rare exception. It was, said Speaker Dennis Hastert, a difficult night for Republicans.
Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois): We watched some of the House races, especially the east; it's been kind of tough out there.
NAYLOR: At the other end of the happiness scale stood California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. As Democratic leader, she's now in line to become the first woman speaker of the House. She told a cheering crowd in Washington last night that Americans voted for a new direction.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): And nowhere did the American people make it more clear that we need a new direction than in the war in Iraq. Stay the course has not made our country safer, has not honored our commitment to our troops, and has not made the region more stable.
NAYLOR: Pelosi promised to work with new Republican minority in a bipartisan way. But first, there are a few intraparty issues to deal with. Already, two senior Democrats - Steny Hoyer of Maryland and John Murtha of Pennsylvania -are seeking support to become House majority leader, second in command after Pelosi.
And there are likely to be leadership changes in the Republican ranks as well, especially as the scope of the GOP defeat sinks in. But the biggest question may be how the Democrats will define their relationship with President Bush as they exercise power in Washington for the first time in over a decade.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Norwalk, Connecticut.