WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 — Washington awoke to a vastly reshaped political landscape today, as Republicans grappled with their losses and Democrats, who recaptured the House of Representatives after 12 years and still harbor hopes of taking back the Senate, laid plans to govern.
By early morning, Democrats had picked up at least 28 seats in the House, leaving them firmly in control. The balance of power in the Senate rested on a knife-edge, with one race in Virginia remained too close to call.
The realignment brought an end to the long-held Republican dream of a permanent majority in Washington.
“We’re going to take a two-year hiatus,” Representative Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters at a morning press briefing.
Of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in line to be speaker of the House, he said, “My goal and job will be to make sure she never sets the record that Denny Hastert set” — a reference to the current speaker, who has held the job longer than any previous Republican. After Tuesday’s Democratic victory, Mr. Hastert’s future role in the House is unclear.
Mr. Reynolds acknowledged that Republicans had lost several seats “by self-inflicted wounds,” an apparent reference to the scandals that swirled around the party, claiming incumbents like Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania, who had been accused of assaulting his mistress. And he said that “unprepared members were swallowed up by the sour national environment” for Republicans.
“The election really was a matter of history repeating itself,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Second-term midterm election are the toughest for the president’s party, and last night was no different.”
Mr. Reynolds’s own hard-fought victory, after he was caught up in the periphery of the Mark Foley scandal, was one of the few bright spots for Republicans on Tuesday. He said he expected two House races to be decided in runoff elections — one in Texas and one in Louisiana — and that several other races around the country remained too close to call.
Mr. Reynolds’ Democratic counterpart, Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, cast the election in historic terms this morning, saying that as things stood, with some races yet to be decided, no incumbent Democrat who sought reelection to the House was rejected by the voters, possibly a first in modern electoral history.
Mr. Emanuel said he had reprised campaign techniques that he used successfully in 1992 and 1996, when he was an aide to former President Bill Clinton.
Now, with the House clearly in Democratic hands, attention focused on the still-to-be-decided battle for the Senate, where the outcome of a close race in Montana was not known until midday today, and where the decisive contest in Virginia may not be settled for days or weeks.
In Montana, the three-term Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns, fell behind the Democratic challenger, Jon Tester, by about 3,000 votes — about 0.8 percent — as results were reported in the last few precincts today.
Mr. Tester, a farmer and the president of the state Senate, claimed victory in the race shortly after noon Eastern time. Mr. Burns did not immediately concede defeat, and may yet call for a recount. State electoral officials said that problems with voting equipment meant that an authoritative final count might not be available until late today at the soonest.
Under Montana law, if the final margin remains greater than 0.5 percent, as it is now, Mr. Burns would have to go to court to obtain a recount, and a judge would have to find probable cause to believe that valid votes were not counted.
The Democratic challenger in Virginia, Jim Webb, claimed victory over the Republican incumbent, Senator George Allen, early this morning. But his lead of less than 1 percent of the vote suggested that that race would have to be decided in a recount next month.
Senator Allen refused to concede defeat, and suggested that he was prepared to demand a recount, as Virginia law allows when the margin is less than 1 percent.
“I know you will all be like eagles and hawks, watching as every one of these votes are counted,” Mr. Allen told supporters this morning.
A victory in Virginia would give Democrats control of 51 seats in the next Senate, a tally that includes two independents who have pledged to support Democratic leadership. A loss would split the Senate 50-50, which would mean continued Republican control, because Vice President Dick Cheney casts tie-breaking votes in his role as Senate president.
Members of both parties today began adjusting to the Democrats’ victory in the House, a sharp turnaround in the fortunes of the party and a sea change in the political dynamics in Washington after a dozen years in which Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for all but a brief period.
House Democratic leaders signaled today that they would use their large margin of victory to press President Bush to dismiss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq.
Exultant over the Democrats’ victory, Mr. Emanuel, the House Democrats’ chief political strategist and fundraiser, said this morning on NBC’s “Today” show that “you cannot have a new strategy” in Iraq “with the same incompetent management directing it.” Asked if the Democrats would move quickly to oust Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Emanuel replied, “It is clear he has not met the challenges that we need in Iraq.”
President Bush today telephoned Ms. Pelosi, the California Democrat who will become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. Mr. Bush also scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. Eastern time today.
Ms. Pelosi has vowed that Democrats will use their first hours in control of the House in January to pass a bill that would raise the national minimum wage, to adopt the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission on anti-terrorism policies, to amend the Medicare drug benefit law to force down drug prices, and to tighten House ethics rules.Continue reading the main story