Senate in balance as Bush battered

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The Independent US

Americans delivered a sharp rebuke to President George Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress, sweeping Democrats into power in the House for the first time in a dozen years and dismantling most if not all of the Republican Senate majority.

The battle for Senate seats in Virginia and Montana was going down to the last votes counted today, and Democrats needed to win both to shape a majority and complete their grip on legislative power. A potential Virginia recount could further lengthen the suspense.

While those races were inconclusive, the voters' main verdict was not. The election yesterday was a repudiation of Republican scandal, with a succession of tainted politicians losing seats as their leaders lost power, and a stinging referendum on the course of the Iraq war and the nation's direction.

Setting a standard her party will be judged on in elections two years from now, speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi promised: "Democrats intend to lead the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history."

The California Democrat was on the cusp of making history herself, as the first woman leader of the House.

Democrats also won governors' races in New York, Ohio and Massachusetts for the first time in more than a decade, and added Colorado, Maryland and Arkansas to their column.

Republicans hung on to Florida's governorship, with Charlie Crist prevailing in a race to succeed Bush's brother Jeb, and Bob Corker won a closely watched Senate contest in Tennessee, denying Democrat Harold Ford's bid to become the first black senator from the South in more than a century.

But the night was one Republicans wished they could forget. For a two-term president who has led with Senate and House control for most of his time in office, easing the way for his tax cuts and war policy, it was an unaccustomed dose of defeat.

The best face his spokesman could put on it was that some people saw it coming. It was not a "a slap-on-the-forehead kind of shock," Tony Snow said. Of the results, he said: "They have not gone the way he would have liked."

Control of the Senate came down to two races once considered safely Republican, until the Democratic wave gathered and gaffes by the two Republican candidates.

In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, claimed victory on the basis of a tiny lead of fewer than 12,000 votes out of more than 2.3 million cast. But with four precincts left to be counted, and margins tight enough for a possible recount, opponent Senator George Allen was not conceding.

In Montana, three-term Senator Conrad Burns narrowly trailed Democrat Jon Tester in a contest that officials said would not be settled until later Wednesday because of voting machine problems in Yellowstone County.

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