AP: Democrats seize total control of US congress

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Democrats have won a narrow majority in the US Senate and regained total control of Congress after 12 years of near-domination by the Republican Party, according to the Associated Press.

AP declared that Democrats completed their sweep when Jim Webb ousted Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, the last of six Republicans to lose. This would give the Democrats 51 seats in the 100-seat Senate when Congress reconvenes in January.

Democrats had 229 seats in the House, 11 more than the number necessary to hold the barest of majorities in the 435-member chamber.

The shift dramatically alters the government's balance of power, leaving Bush without Republican congressional control to drive his legislative agenda. Democrats hailed the results and issued calls for bipartisanship even as they vowed to investigate administration policies and decisions.

"In Iraq and here at home, Americans have made clear they are tired of the failures of the past six years," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who is in line to become Senate Majority leader when Congress reconvenes in January.

As watershed elections go, this one rivalled the Republicans' takeover in 1994, which made Newt Gingrich speaker of the House, the first Republican to run the House since the 1950s Eisenhower administration. This time the shift comes in the midst of an unpopular war, a Congress scarred by scandal and just two years from a wide-open presidential contest.

AP declared that Allen lost to Democrat Jim Webb, a former Republican who served as Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. A count by The Associated Press showed Webb with 1,172,538 votes and Allen with 1,165,302, a difference of 7,236. Allen was awaiting the result state-wide post-election canvass of votes and did not concede the race.

Democrats will have nine new senators on their side of the aisle as a result of Tuesday's balloting. Six of them defeated sitting Republican senators from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Rhode Island, Montana and Virginia. The other three replaced retiring senators from Maryland, Minnesota and Vermont.

Their ideologies are as varied as their home states. Bernie Sanders, an independent who will replace Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, is a Socialist who has served in the House and voted with Democrats since 1990. Bob Casey, who defeated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, is an anti-abortion moderate. Webb once declared that the sight of President Clinton returning a Marine's salute infuriated him.

Besides the Webb-Allen race, the Montana Senate contest also was too tight to call early yesterday. But by midday, Democrat Jon Tester outdistanced Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who had to fight off campaign miscues as well as his ties to Jack Abramoff, the once super-lobbyist caught in an influence-peddling scheme.

In the House, 10 races remained too tight to call, with three of them leaning to the Democrats. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who would become the first female speaker in history, called for harmony and said Democrats would not abuse their new status.

She said she would be "the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Democrats". She said Democrats would aggressively conduct oversight of the administration, but said any talk of impeachment of Bush "is off the table".

In the Senate, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the head of the Democrats' Senate campaign committee, said: "We had a tough and partisan election, but the American people and every Democratic senator - and I've spoken to just about all of them - want to work with the president in a bipartisan way."

Aside from gains in Congress, Democrats took 20 of 36 governors' races to give them a majority of top state jobs - 28 - for the first time in a dozen years. New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland and Arkansas went into the Democratic column.

In other ballot races, Democrats gained a decisive edge in state legislatures, taking control of a number of bodies and solidifying their hold on others. With the wins, Democrats will be in a better position to shape state policy agendas and will play a key role in drawing Congressional districts.

Almost 79 million people voted in Tuesday's election, with Democrats drawing more support than Republicans for the first time in a mid-term election since 1990.

The overall turnout rate, reflecting a percentage of voting age population, was 40.4 per cent, compared with 39.7 per cent in 2002, according to an Associated Press vote count and an analysis by American University's Centre for the Study of the American Electorate.