Democrats Make Major Gains In Congress

Democrats made gains in the House and Senate for the second straight election, knocking off some prominent Republican incumbents and winning open seats that had been held by the GOP. But they came up short of the 60 Senate seats needed to end filibusters.

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And while Obama was sweeping to victory yesterday, so too were congressional Democrats. As we mentioned earlier in the hour, they did well, but they didn't pull off the landslide that some had predicted. And there are some races that remain too close to call. NPR's Brian Naylor has this rundown of what happened in the congressional contests.

BRIAN NAYLOR: After returning to the majority two years ago, congressional Democrats yesterday were able to add to their numbers. House Democrats will start next January with a gain of at least 19 seats. Several races remain undecided, and that number could go up. Democrats prevailed from Connecticut, where 11-term incumbent Chris Shays was beaten, leaving no Republican House member from New England, to Idaho, where first-term incumbent Bill Sally was ousted. Despite their larger majority, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today, Democrats will govern as centrists.

Speaker of the House NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The country must be governed from the middle. The country must be governed from the middle. You have to bring people together to reach consensus on solutions that are sustainable and acceptable to the American people.

NAYLOR: Centrism and bipartisanship was a mantra for Democrats across the country yesterday. Democratic Senate candidates picked up seats in every region, winning open seats held by Republicans and knocking off GOP incumbents. Democrat Kay Hagan ousted first-term incumbent Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina.

Senator-elect KAY HAGAN (Democrat, North Carolina): And to the North Carolinians who didn't vote for me, I am going to be working hard for the next six years to earn your vote.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen.-elect HAGAN: Because Democrats, Republicans, or independent, the ideas we need to create good-paying jobs and turn our economy around won't have a party label.

NAYLOR: In Virginia, former Governor Mark Warner, elected to the seat being vacated by Republican John Warner, sounded a similar theme.

Senator-elect MARK WARNER (Democrat, Virginia): A lot of you heard me say this before, but the challenges we face are much more about the future versus the past. And as long as we face that future and avoid the political divisions of the past, there is nothing we can't accomplish as Americans first and foremost.

NAYLOR: Elsewhere in the South, Democratic challenger Jim Martin came up short in his bid to oust Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, but he held Chambliss to under 50 percent, necessitating a December runoff under that state's election laws. In another high-profile contest, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell held on to his Kentucky seat, despite Democratic efforts. In the West, cousins Mark and Tom Udall were elected to open Senate seats from Colorado and New Mexico respectively. Tom Udall said it's about jobs.

Senator-elect TOM UDALL (Democrat, New Mexico): And the first task we have to undertake in this country is rebuilding our economy, putting all of our policies at the federal level, taxes, economic, trade, behind middle-class people, no more shipping jobs overseas, growing jobs here in America, in New Mexico.

NAYLOR: A number of key Senate races remain too close to call today. In Minnesota, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman holds a slender 571-vote lead over Democrat Al Franken, and there will be a recount. In Oregon, Republican incumbent Gordon Smith leads challenger Jeff Merkley, but many votes remain to be counted. And in Alaska, Republican Ted Stevens, despite being convicted of seven felonies, leads Democrat Mark Begich with several thousand absentee ballots to be counted. As it stands, Democrats will have at least 56 seats in the new Senate. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Correction Nov. 6, 2008

In some versions of this story, we incorrectly said there would be 19 new Democratic members of the House. In fact, there will be 23 new Democrats. Four lost their races, so Democrats had a net gain of 19 seats.

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