Washington — Resurgent Republicans appear poised to capture control of the House if not the Senate on Tuesday in elections midway through President Barack Obama’s term, reaping a rich harvest of voter discontent with the economy and profound public skepticism about the future.
Drawing strength from the clamorous tea party movement, the GOP also is in line to wrest governorships from Democrats in all regions of the country, according to political strategists in both parties and public opinion polls. Big-state races in Florida, Ohio, Illinois and California remain intensely competitive into the campaign’s final hours.
Republicans must gain 40 seats to win control of the House and 10 to take the Senate. A victory in either case would spell the end of a two-year stretch in which Democrats controlled the White House and held comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress.
With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally and economic growth anemic, as many as 100 seats appeared competitive or ripe for turnover in the 435-member House — a list that included two dozen or more already given up for lost by the Democrats.
After absorbing thrashings at the hands of voters in 2006 and 2008, Republicans guarded against public displays of overconfidence. In private, though, their debate was not whether they would win a House majority, but the size of the victory margin.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your government hasn’t been listening,” said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican in line to become speaker of the House. “Your government is disrespecting you, your family, your job, your children. Your government is out of control. Do you have to accept it? Do you have to take it? Hell no you don’t. That’s what elections are for!” he said at a late-campaign rally in Ohio.
Publicly, Democrats betrayed no expectation that their House majority was at an end. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., turned aside any and all questions about the possibility of a night that would end her four-year tenure as the first female speaker in history.
But there was nothing bullish about the Democrats’ late-campaign pronouncements.
“While there is some evidence that the Democrats’ efforts are starting to pay off, the party still has ground to cover,” said an Oct. 27 memo from Anzalone Lizst Research, a Democratic polling firm.
The ubiquitous polls were maddeningly inconsistent on many points. But most agreed that voters preferred Republicans over Democrats in hypothetical matchups, one key indicator of voting behavior, and also that independents were swinging back to the GOP for the first time since President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004.
An Associated Press-GfK poll taken Oct. 13-18 found 59 percent of voters thought the country was heading in the wrong direction.
Republicans campaigned as advocates of tax cuts to stimulate the economy and promised at the same time to cut federal spending, tackle the deficit and reduce the reach of the government in general, though they offered few specifics.
In rebuttal, Democrats said Republicans had wrecked the economy once and were promising a return to the same policies they had pursued before.
Whatever the outcome, the election was the costliest at any midterm in history — and one of the coarsest.
The incomplete tab was $3.6 billion and growing, with final disclosure reports not required until after Election Day. That included spending by candidates, the political parties and independent organizations, including one, Crossroads GPS, with a sterling Republican pedigree that raised tens of millions from anonymous donors and spent it attacking Democratic candidates.