Election Shapes Up As National Referendum

Denton County voters enter a polling location Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006, in Argyle, Texas. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)
AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
Control of both houses of Congress as well as three dozen governor's races were being decided in Tuesday's historic midterm elections, as voters headed to the polls to define the balance of power for the rest of George W. Bush's presidency.

With polls closed in Virginia, the hotly contested Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger James Webb — one of the key races that could decide control of the Senate — is too close to call, CBS News estimates.

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar was the projected winner in Indiana, while Rep. Bernie Sanders, an Independent, was the projected winner in Vermont.

Preliminary CBS News exit polls showed the battle for the House shaping up so far as a nationalized election, with most voters saying national issues outweighed local ones. Most said President Bush was a factor in their vote, and more were casting ballots to oppose him than to support him. Most voters said they were angry or dissatisfied with the administration.

As expected, voters who support the Iraq war are backing Republicans and those who disapprove of it are backing Democrats. Disapproval of Congress is high and that is helping Democrats overall.

Most voters said they had made up their minds about their votes last month or before.

"If our nationwide exit polls are right, the wind is blowing the Democrats' way," reports CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, "and it looks like a strong wind."

At stake Tuesday are all 435 House seats, 33 in the Senate, 36 races for governor, ballot measures on same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, the minimum wage and more — plus the overarching fate of Mr. Bush's agenda in the last two years of his presidency.

Democrats needed to gain 15 House seats or six in the Senate to form a majority.

Democrats were well-positioned to pick up Senate seats in Ohio, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. If Democrats win those races and hold all their current seats, they would then need to win three of the four remaining toss-ups: Virginia, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee.

On the House side, a CBS News analysis rated 52 races as competitive — 48 of them involving Republican-held seats versus just four held by Democrats. Another 23 races are rated as potentially competitive — 16 Republican seats, four Democratic and one independent.

Despite brave words for public consumption, Republicans worried that control of the House would slip from their hands. Senate control was also in play but was a tougher climb for Democrats.

"Some of these races are one- and two-point differences," said CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger. "Republicans have a real good turnout machine. And at this point in the race, it's all about getting your voters to the polls."

Across the country, both parties hustled to get their supporters out in high-stakes contests, with Democrats appealing one more time for change and appearing confident the mood was on their side. Republicans conceded nothing as their vaunted get-out-the-vote machine swung into motion.

Voting at sunrise, President Bush switched from partisan campaigner to democracy's cheerleader as he implored Americans of all political leanings to cast ballots. ( Watch the video.)

"We live in a free society, and our government is only as good as the willingness of our people to participate," said Mr. Bush, his wife, Laura, at his side and an "I Voted" sticker on the lapel of his brown suede jacket. "Therefore, no matter what your party affiliation or if you don't have a party affiliation, do your duty, cast your ballot and let your voice be heard."

The uncertainty of it all made many jittery, candidates included.

In Tennessee, where Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Harold Ford Jr. were in a pitched battle for a Senate seat, even a spotty rain made Corker edgy.

"Any candidate doesn't like to see rain," Corker said, greeting supporters on a damp Tuesday morning in Kingsport. "You don't know what kind of variables that brings into it."

His opponent, Democrat Harold Ford Jr., said the election was in "God's hands" as, following laws against campaigning at polling stations, he stood at a distance from a church where voters cast ballots.

Ford wasn't leaving everything to divine fate, however. He shouted to people standing in the church doorway: "I would come up there but I don't want to get in trouble. I'd appreciate it if you'd vote for me."

In one of the nation's closest Senate races, where polls never showed a clear leader, Missouri voters finally are picking a winner between GOP Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill.

Talent and McCaskill both started Election Day early by voting in suburban St. Louis. McCaskill had to stand in line for nearly a half-hour before she could vote, and she was glad to do it.

"I've never been so happy to wait in line," said McCaskill. "To have this kind of turnout for a non-presidential race is amazing."

Talent, who waited in line for nearly an hour before voting, said he had no regrets as the campaign ended. "I think we worked as hard as we could," he said.

About a third of voters were using new equipment, and problems in several states were reported right out of the gate. The government deployed a record number of poll watchers to the many competitive races across the country.

Overall, the Justice Department said polling complaints were down slightly from 2004 by early afternoon.