Washington — A takeover of the House in sight, Republicans brimmed with confidence while Democrats braced for losses on the eve of recession-era elections for control of Congress and dozens of statehouses. “The American people are in charge,” declared GOP leader John Boehner, vowing to shrink the size and cost of government if his party wins power today.
Favorites and underdogs alike went through their final campaign paces on Monday, beckoning voters to turn out in the small towns of swing House districts and the large urban centers where statewide races are won and lost.
“It does us no good that people are supporting us if they don’t turn into voters,” said Marco Rubio, a Republican rated a strong favorite for a Senate seat in a tangled multi-candidate race in Florida.
“When people vote, we win,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat whose re-election bid was written off weeks ago by strategists in her own party.
President Barack Obama was home from the campaign trail at the White House after a weekend rush through four states.
The president traveled to 14 states in the final month of the campaign, some of them twice, in a bid to rekindle the enthusiasm of young voters, liberals, blacks and independents whose ballots propelled him to the White House.
Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Vermont, where a close gubernatorial election loomed, before heading to his home state of Delaware — one of the few bright spots on the Democratic map this year.
There was little or no doubt that Republicans would pick up seats in a campaign their leaders cast as a repudiation of the president’s policies.
But in the Senate, in particular, the size of the gains depended on the fate of several tea party-backed candidates who toppled establishment candidates in the primaries and now face statewide electorates. Most prominent among them are Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle, who is challenging Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada.
“This election is entirely about him and this big majority in Congress and what they’ve been doing for the last two years,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Having said that, the next move is really his. … If he pivots and heads in our direction on spending and debt, that will be a good indication he’s listened to the American people.”
Boehner campaigned in his home state of Ohio, where Republicans hope to pick off as many as a half-dozen Democratic House seats and make him the country’s most powerful member of his party. He would be likely to become House speaker if the GOP takes control.
In remarks prepared for an evening rally in Cincinnati, he said, “Our first priority will be to create new jobs … to get our economy moving again by ending the uncertainty facing small businesses.” He pledged weekly votes in Congress to cut federal spending, vowed to extend tax cuts due to expire at year’s end and said Republicans would “fight to repeal” Obama’s health care legislation and replace it with unspecified reforms.
In the costliest midterm campaign in history, the political parties and outside groups attacked to the end.
House Democrats targeted South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, the lawmaker who shouted “you lie” during Obama’s health care speech to Congress 14 months ago. The district’s population is more than 25 percent black.
In a more telling move, they put money down to try and head off late-developing upset threats against Reps. Gene Taylor in Mississippi, Ron Kind in Wisconsin and Bruce Braley in Iowa.
Well-financed GOP-allied outside groups continued to pour money into efforts to turn Republican gains into a major sweep, including targeting 18-term Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota. In all, the Democrats’ House campaign arm spent nearly double the amount bankrolling its candidates that it had in 2008 — $145 million during this election compared with $76 million two years ago. The GOP counterpart shelled out $121 million, more than five times the amount it did two years ago when it lost seats for the second straight election.
All 435 House seats are on the ballot today, and Republicans need to gain 40 to regain the majority they lost four years ago. More than 100 seats are seen as competitive — or already given up for lost by the Democrats.
There are 37 Senate elections, and Republicans need to pick up 10 to win the majority, a more distant possibility than gaining House control.
A half-dozen or more remained too close to call. Among them was the race in Nevada, where Majority Leader Harry Reid battled 14.4 percent unemployment and tea party favorite Angle in his fight for six more years in office. An estimated 60 percent or more of Nevada’s total vote was cast in early balloting that ended late last week, and both parties professed satisfaction with the outcome so far.