Obama, GOP in New Political Dynamic After Election

A new and different era of divided government lays ahead

By DAVID ESPO & JULIE PACE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Jubilant Republicans celebrated sweeping election gains Wednesday as President Barack Obama began adjusting to a Congress under two-house GOP control for his final years in office.

“We won in red states, we won in blue states and we won in purple states,” said Republican chairman Reince Priebus on the day after his party won control of the Senate, tightened its grip on the House and took over a handful of additional governorships.

“This was all about a direct rejection of the Obama agenda,” he declared.

A new and different era of divided government lay ahead.

Priebus spoke as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, prepared for a midafternoon news conference to begin sketching plans for the Congress that convenes in January.

Obama, too, was fielding questions, a short while after McConnell spoke.

It was unclear whether the two men had yet connected by phone. Officials said McConnell had gone to bed by the time the White House placed a call to him for the president on election night.

Obama did speak to more than two dozen House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates and congressional leaders from both parties before retiring, and he was making more calls Wednesday, the White House said.

Speaker John Boehner ceded the Republican limelight to McConnell for the day. The Ohio Republican is in line for a third term as House leader — and his first with a Republican majority in the Senate.

The combination will give Republicans far greater say on the legislative agenda, and assures an end to a situation in which the House passed dozens of bills and the Democratic-controlled Senate simply ignored them.

Both GOP leaders have said they intend to focus on jobs legislation and energy measures. A vote to approve the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States ranks high on the agenda.

An attack on deficits is also in the offing, and GOP leaders have spoken of attempting to enact an overhaul of tax rules.

Less clear are Republican plans for the health care law that they oppose. While many winning GOP candidates campaigned on a platform of repeal, McConnell has said that is unlikely as long as Obama and his veto pen are in the White House.

Democrats sought to make the best of a bad election night.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, in charge of the party’s House campaign operations, said it could have been worse.

It was bad enough for the president’s party.

Republicans were assured of a gain of seven Senate seats, and they bid for another in Alaska, where the vote count was not complete. Also uncalled was a race in Virginia, where Democratic Sen. Mark Warner faced challenger Ed Gillespie.

Also in doubt was a Senate seat in Louisiana, where Rep. Bill Cassidy led Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu into a Dec. 6 runoff.

Despite the reverses, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada announced he intended to remain as the Democratic leader. There was no sign of opposition.

In the House, Republicans were within hailing distance of their largest majority since World War II, 246 seats in 1946, when Harry Truman sat in the White House.

There was no word whether Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would seek another term as leader.

Already, the jockeying was underway for the next election, one to pick a president in 2016.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, both Republican hopefuls, were up early for morning television appearances.

Exit polls show the GOP drew strength from voters who felt left behind economically. Almost half said their own families’ financial situations hadn’t improved much over the past two years, and a fourth said it had gotten worse. Those who said their finances were worse supported Republican congressional candidates by more than a 2-1 margin.

Even as they turned against Obama and Democrats, voters also expressed scant confidence in Republican leaders, underscoring the increased pressure that Republicans will face to deliver next year when they control both houses of Congress.

Outside groups were standing ready with millions in advertising time for the Louisiana runoff. The Koch-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund had reserved more than $2 million in airtime, starting with ads that Louisiana voters were to begin seeing on Wednesday. The Senate Republicans’ campaign arm had booked $2.8 million in ads and the Senate Democrats’ committee already had planned $1.8 million in ads.

In state capitols, Republicans picked up governors’ seats in reliably Democratic states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. With Congress grappling with gridlock, states have been at the forefront of efforts to raise the minimum wage and implement Obama’s health care law.