Voters Usher Out Republicans

House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, celebrates with fellow Democrats at an election-night rally at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President Bush called it a thumping. To Democrats, it felt more like a restoration after a long turn out of power in Congress and several big-state governorships.

By any description, the 2006 elections marked a voter revolt, fueled by anger over the war in Iraq and corruption at home, yet carried out with remarkable precision.

It wasn't that Democrats gained their congressional majorities by winning all the close races — they didn't.

But in a year when Democrats took 29 House seats, six Senate seats and six governorships away from the Republicans, they did not surrender any of their own.

"If you look at race by race, it was close," Mr. Bush said after the voters stripped his party of control of the House and Senate for the final two years of his term. "The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping."

Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Jim Talent of Missouri, George Allen of Virginia, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Conrad Burns of Montana all fell. Democrats won governorships in New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado and Arkansas where Republicans were retiring, and ousted a GOP incumbent in Maryland.

House Republicans surrendered seats in blue states — three in New York — and in red states — three in Indiana. Democrats turned four GOP incumbents out of office in Pennsylvania alone.

The election marked the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the war on terror did not work to the advantage of the Republicans.

The GOP gained seats in Congress in 2002, little more than a year after terrorists struck the United States. Mr. Bush won a second term in 2004, campaigning as the steely steward of the global war on terror.

He decided early on to make the war on terror a centerpiece of his campaigning this year, too. In a closed-door meeting with House Republicans in February, he vowed to stay the course. "Don't lose your nerve. I'm not going to lose mine," one member of his audience quoted him as saying.

But three weeks later came the first obvious danger signal. A furor erupted in Congress when it was disclosed that a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates planned to take over a British firm that held contracts at ports in six U.S. cities.

Mr. Bush defended the deal, but he was stung by criticism from Republicans in Congress. "In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just no, but hell no," Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., wrote him. The deal was scrapped.

"Port security is national security, and national security is port security," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said at the time, as Democrats glimpsed an opportunity to chip away at Mr. Bush's political strength.
  • John Esterbrook

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