Republicans Deal Stinging Rebuke to Obama

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Agence France Presse

Republicans Deal Stinging Rebuke to Obama

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House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON - US voters handed Republicans a share of power and dealt a severe rebuke to President Barack Obama, as fear over the anemic economy crushed the hope of his historic election win two years ago.

Resurgent Republicans, led by the ultra-conservative Tea Party insurgency, steamrolled Democrats by taking at least 50 seats in the House of Representatives, leaving broad Democratic control in tatters. And the widening mid-term election margin was closing on historic levels Wednesday.

Beleaguered Democrats clung onto the Senate, but the Republicans netted six seats, with two more battleground states yet to be declared. They had needed an unlikely 10 pickups to take the Senate as well.

In one ray of light for Obama, his top Senate ally Harry Reid survived.

Republicans needed 39 seats to capture the House, and force the first-ever woman speaker Nancy Pelosi from power -- a barrier they smashed soon after polls closed as the Democratic monopoly on power crumbled.

By early Wednesday, with a handful of the 435 House seats still up for grabs, several US media outlets were reporting a projected gain of at least 59 seats, the chamber's largest shift in power since 1938.

Ohio's John Boehner, almost certain to take the gavel from Pelosi in January and become Republican speaker, dissolved in tears in his moment of victory, but laced his speech with steel.

"We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making the changes that they are demanding," Boehner told a victory rally in Washington.

"To the extent he's willing to do that, we're ready to work with him. But make no mistake, the president will find in our new majority the voice of the American people as they've expressed it tonight."

Obama called Boehner at midnight, and said he was "looking forward to working with him and the Republicans to find common ground, move the country forward, and get things done for the American people," the White House said. Facts about US Congress

Democrats will hand over the House after amassing a historic legacy, including healthcare reform and a Wall Street overhaul over the last two years, and claiming they staved off a second Great Depression.

But they paid a heavy price for a sluggish economic recovery that has yet to be felt countrywide and unemployment pegged at a stubborn 9.6 percent.

In a true embarrassment for Obama, Republicans won his former US Senate seat, as Mark Kirk beat presidential friend Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois.

Democrats fared poorly at the state level as well, with eight governorships to Republicans as of early Wednesday, and nine governor posts still too close to call.

But Democrats reclaimed the governor's mansion in the most populous state California, as blast-from-the-past Jerry Brown -- governor from 1975 to 1983 -- defeated wealthy businesswoman Meg Whitman to replace outgoing "Governator" and Hollywood heavyweight Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Democrats kept the Senate after Joe Manchin won the firewall Senate seat of West Virginia, and Barbara Boxer fought off a tough challenge from former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina in California.

But Republicans were jubilant at their House win.

"We've come to take our government back!" cried Rand Paul, a hero of the Tea Party movement, after winning a Senate seat in Kentucky.

"There's a Tea Party tidal wave," he said, in a coming-of-age moment for the movement set up to challenge what critics see as Obama's "big-government" takeover of American life.

Charismatic Florida Tea Party favorite and Cuban-American Marco Rubio also surged to victory in the Senate under the conservative group's banner.

Obama was scheduled to make his first public comments on the election in a White House news conference on Wednesday which could be crucial in setting the tone for a tough run up to his 2012 re-election campaign.

Under Boehner, Republicans are promising to reverse Obama's sweeping health reforms and promise a budget crunch and tax cuts which they claim will cut the deficit and ignite growth. Related article:Political gridlock spells bad news for economy

All year, voters have made clear that the sluggish rebound from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, with unemployment standing at 9.6 percent, was their major concern.

"I'm unemployed for almost one year," said Republican voter Tom Gutierrez, 41, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. "I need to find a job and I'm sure I will not get it with the Democrats."

But Liberty, Missouri, schoolteacher Jane Boswell said she was switching her vote to Democratic because Obama needed more time to pursue his agenda and scolded voters who "think that change has to happen overnight."

Obama, who leaves Friday on a nine-day tour of Asia, must now launch a re-examination of his presidency, as he seeks to renew his bond with voters in the run-up to 2012.

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