WASHINGTON—Republicans turned the tide on Barack Obama’s administration Tuesday, seizing back the balance of power in midterm elections that leave what remains of the president’s agenda in doubt.
The turning point in what many regard as the most expensive, negative and fear-infused elections in U.S. memory came just before midnight, as Republicans capped a series of Senate victories with yet another in a North Carolina nailbiter.
The unseating of Democratic incumbent Kay Hagen by challenger Thom Tillis put the GOP back in majority control of the 100-seat Senate for the first time since the George W. Bush era. Combined with other gains in the House of Representatives, the outcome means Republicans will dominate Congress in January, when the night’s victors are sworn into office.
But whether the new blood — much of it Republican red — will change the tone of a poisonously deadlocked Congress remains very much in doubt.
Texas Gov. Ted Cruz, who has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, offered mixed messages in, telling CNN that “now the responsibility falls to Republicans to stand up and lead—and I hope that’s what we do.” But in the very next breath, Cruz revisited the years-long Washington power stalemate, vowing that a primary Republican goal now will be “stopping the train wreck that is Obamacare.”
Tuesday’s Republican wave washed across several high-profile races for state governor, including a robust victory for union-bashing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, winning his third election in four years after a bitterly disputed recall vote. Walker is viewed by many as a likely candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And in Illinois, Obama’s home state, incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was toppled by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
Amid a cluster of partisan nailbiters – including closer than expected contests in Virginia and Florida—both parties were able to combine in at least one historic breakthrough: 100 female members of Congress were elected for the first time ever.
Earlier Tuesday Obama appeared braced for a difficult night, describing the Senate seats in play as “the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.”
And as the results rolled in, the president’s words rang true, with cliffhangers emerging in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, all regarded as sound Democratic territory going into Tuesday.
Midway through the night, CNN described a “pugnacious tone” among White House officials, with one senior Obama administration source saying the president would push forward with his own agenda via executive action in the absence of Republican compromise.
But by 9 p.m., a blander, more benign message emerged from the White House, hinting at an effort toward compromise: “The president has invited bipartisan, bicameral congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House on Friday afternoon.”
Among the early Republican victories, the veritable cakewalk re-election of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who now will carry even greater clout in Washington as the dominant voice in the Senate payday loan.
“It wasn’t about me or about my opponent,” McConnell told cheering supporters. “It was about a government that people no longer trust.”
But it was also about money — an unprecedented $4 billion, all told, with the lion’s share dedicated to vicious attack ads aimed at crushing opposition support.
American University historian Allan Lichtman, paraphrasing Shakespeare, summed up the midterms as “A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
“For all of that money, on searches in vain for the great ideas . . . the creative, new and bold and innovative solutions to the enormous problems facing the United States and the world,” Lichtman told a gathering of foreign reporters in Washington.
“It is one of the least inspiring campaigns I’ve witnessed in many decades of watching American politics.”
Politico columnist Roger Simon, in a furious screed entitled, “The year of living stupidly,” summed of his own contempt for the cash-splashed campaigns, writing, “I understand why some Americans drop out and stop paying attention to politics. Their indignation has turned to disgust and their disgust has frozen into apathy.”
The connotations for Ottawa included possible movement on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, a file stalled for most of Obama’s six years in power. Sounding bullish on GOP prospects, Republican National Committee Chair Rance Priebus told MSNBC said passage of the unbuilt leg of the $8-billion Alberta-to-Texas project would be among the first orders of business in a Republican-controlled Congress.
“And I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline,” he said.
Midterm elections historically tilt against the party that holds the White House, rousing a feisty, older constituency and leaving younger voters blas