THE REPUBLICAN PARTY has dealt a major blow to the presidency of Barack Obama by gaining control of the United States House of Representatives, winning at least 60 seats beyond the 178 it had previously held to notch up a clear majority.
Obama’s Democratic Party also lost six seats in the Senate, though it seemed set to retain control of that chamber by a small majority.
The mid-term elections were all about the Republicans, however, with the right-wing Tea Party movement appearing to energise the party and its support base in opposition to what it perceived as the inaction of President Obama since taking office 22 months ago.
The loss of the overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress – with the Democrats holding such a large majority before the death of Senator Ted Kennedy last August that it could block any tactics by Republicans to even delay legislation, let alone stop it outright – is the first major political defeat of Obama’s political career.
The loss of the majority in the House of Representatives will also see its Speaker, Nancy Pelosi – the first female speaker in Congressional history – make way for Republican John Boehner, making him the de facto party leader as the the second man in the presidential line of succession, preceded only by vice-president Joe Biden.
“It’s clear tonight who the winners really are, and that’s the American people,” Boehner said as news of his imminent appointment became clear. “Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the American people.”
It was in Biden’s old senate seat of Delaware, however, that the chances missed by the Republican tidal wave became most obvious. There, Christine O’Donnell – a major figurehead in the Tea Party movement – was definitively beaten by Democratic Chris Coons.
Sharron Angle, another Party leader, also fell short having been widely tipped to defeat Senate leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Though the party claimed a number of victories, the loss of a number of seats where apparently weak Democrat incumbents failed to be toppled by a unified and popular Republican candidate could well have turned out to have cost the Republicans control of the Senate.
With the Houses of Congress now deadlocked, Obama’s ability to pass controversial legislation – as he did with the Health Care Reform act – is now significantly handicapped, and will require bi-partisan co-operation at every turn.
His hopes of presidential re-election may also have taken a hit, particularly given the loss of some governor’s mansions to Republican challengers. For example in Ohio – a so-called ‘swing state’ in presidential election, where the support of the governor often dictates that state’s support – incumbent Ted Strickland was beaten by Republican challenger John Kasich.