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The Republicans have won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in midterm elections, but the Democrats will keep their Senate majority, according to projections by several U.S. media outlets.
Republicans picked up at least six Senate seats, including wins in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, North Dakota and the defeat of three-term Democratic Senator Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. In an embarrassment for the Democracts, Republican Mark Kirk won the Illinois Senate seat formerly held by U.S. President Barack Obama.
However, Democratic Senate victories in Nevada, Connecticut, West Virginia and California prevented the Republicans from gaining the 10 seats they needed to capture the upper chamber.
In Nevada, Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, survived a fierce challenge from Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle.
The Republicans snatched away at least 56 House seats from the Democrats, many more than the 39 the party needed to take control of the House. Democrats managed to wrest only two House seats from Republican control. The swing in the House was the biggest in 70 years, topping the Republican landslide of 1994.
The conservative tide swept aside Democratic freshmen and longtime veterans alike. Democratic losses included two powerful politicians: 14-term South Carolina Rep. John Spratt, the head of the House budget committee, and Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, the House armed services committee chairman, who had more than 30 years' experience.
The House triumph will mean the current Republican minority leader, John Boehner of Ohio, will likely replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
"With their voices, the American people are demanding a new way forward in Washington. I'm here to tell you tonight that our new majority will be prepared to do things differently," Boehner said.
He said that approach starts with cutting spending, reducing the size of government and reforming the way Congress works.
The Republicans' gains could also derail Obama's agenda in the last two years of his term, potentially leaving Washington in a political gridlock unless Obama can find common ground with some of his fiercest critics.
"While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people's house, we must remember it's the president who sets the agenda for our government," Boehner said. "The American people have sent an unmistakeable message to him tonight, and that message is 'change course.' "
Obama called Boehner later in the night to offer his congratulations and to say he wanted to find "common ground" with Republican leaders.
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Republicans have also picked up at least 10 governorships and were expected to win the majority of the 37 races being contested. Democratic loses included Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming.
But Republican candidate and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who poured more than $150 million of her own money into her campaign to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as California governor, went down in defeat to former governor Jerry Brown.
The Democrats hung on to governorships in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Colorado.
Candidates backed by the Tea Party movement recorded some early wins Tuesday evening.
Rand Paul, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, defeated Democratic rival Jack Conway in the race for Kentucky's open U.S. Senate seat.
"I have a message from the people of Kentucky, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words," Rand told his supporters. We’ve come to take our government back!"
What's at stake in Tuesday's vote
Republican Marco Rubio in Florida also coasted to an easy Senate victory. Rubio defeated Democratic challenger Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of the state, who lost the primary challenge to Rubio and decided to run as an Independent.
But Republican Christine O'Donnell, who gained national attention for saying she had previously dabbled in witchcraft, lost the Senate contest in Delaware to Democrat Chris Coons. Some Republicans had slammed O'Donnell's nomination in the primaries, saying they had a better chance of picking up the seat had they chosen Mike Castle, a moderate Republican.
Voters decided on all 435 seats in the House of Representatives as well as 37 of the 100 Senate seats, as well as the 37 governor races.
Leading up to Tuesday's vote, opinion polls suggested a Republican takeover of the House was all but assured.
A Republican sweep would have been a political reversal of fortune for the party, which lost complete control in Washington following the election of U.S President Barack Obama.
Since then, Americans have become increasingly frustrated with the economy and unemployment. Obama's historic legislative achievements in health care and the stimulus package have also met with controversy over concerns about spending.
Exit polls confirmed that four in 10 voters said they were worse off financially than two years ago, more than one in three said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama, but more than half expressed negative views about both political parties.
Roughly 40 per cent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement. By contrast, about three in four expressed negative views about the federal government. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.
Government spending in particular has given rise to the Tea Party movement, which has campaigned on spending cuts and lower taxes and has boosted enthusiasm among the Republican ranks.
Nearly three dozen Tea Party-backed Republicans were in competitive races Tuesday. Democrats were hoping that the ultraconservative policies of many of those candidates will prove too extreme for voters in the general election.
The Centre for Responsive Politics estimates that $4 billion has been spent on U.S. election campaigns this year by candidates, political parties and outside special interest groups, far exceeding the $2.85 billion spent during the last midterm election year, in 2006.
Voters in several states are also deciding on a range of ballot measures, including a California proposal on the legalization of small amounts of marijuana.[GALLERY id=4079 cat=news]