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Democrats Shift Balance Of Power In Washington


U.S. Democrats won a major congressional victory in midterm elections Tuesday, taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 and gaining seats in the Senate. As VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington, public discontent over the war in Iraq was a major factor in the Democratic gains.

Democrats had all along hoped to make this year's midterm congressional elections a referendum on the war in Iraq and it appears they largely succeeded.

An exit poll survey conducted by the Associated Press found about six in 10 voters unhappy about the war in Iraq and disapproving of the way President Bush is handling his job.

The poll also found that 75 percent of those asked said congressional scandals played an important role in their vote.

Democrats have been the minority party in the 435-member House since the Republican sweep of 1994.

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi is now in line to become the first woman Speaker of the House. Pelosi thanked ecstatic Democrats at party headquarters in Washington and said her party stands ready to meet what she believes is a desire for change among voters.

"And nowhere did the American people make it more clear that we need a new direction than in the war in Iraq," said Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats also made gains in the 100-member U.S. Senate, seizing Republican held seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Democrats also seized governorships previously held by Republicans in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Colorado.

Democratic control of the House means Democrats will set the congressional agenda and have the power to launch committee investigations of the Bush administration, including its handling of the war in Iraq.

Stephen Wayne is a political expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

"There would be a great incentive to investigate the executive branch, and the Democrats would try to drag the administration through with non-stop investigations for the next two years, " said Stephen Wayne.

Some Democrats are already urging the incoming congressional leadership to focus more on substance and less on political recriminations.

Senator Barrack Obama is a Democrat from Illinois and a possible presidential contender in 2008.

"Democrats also have to show that we are going to move forward aggressively on agendas that actually make a difference with the American people, things like [increasing] the minimum wage, things like lowering the cost of health care," he said. "The American people want progress. They do not want payback [political revenge]."

Republicans meanwhile are trying to assess where they went wrong and how to fix it in time for the next election.

Former Republican Congressman Dick Armey appeared on MSNBC television.

"I think we will come out of this a Republican Party that is stronger," said Dick Armey. "I do not think there is a repudiation of the fundamentals of the Republican Party. There is a disappointment of current Republican officeholders in not having lived up to the ideals of our party."

Historically, the Republican losses in the House and Senate are not unusual in the sixth year of a two-term president. Since World War II, the party that controls the White House has lost an average of 31 House seats and six Senate seats in the sixth year of a second presidential term.