A day after Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in key midterm elections, they came a step closer to doing so in the Senate, with television networks projecting a Democratic victory in Montana. Democrats, whose victories were fueled in large part by public opposition to the war in Iraq, welcomed President Bush's decision to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Congressional Democrats have long called for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation, saying he had bungled the war in Iraq. As public opposition to the war increased, even some Republicans joined the calls for the defense secretary to step down.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who will become speaker when the new Democratic-controlled House convenes in January, welcomed word of Rumsfeld's pending resignation.
"I think it will give a fresh start to finding a solution to Iraq, rather than staying the course," she said.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also been a strong critic of the defense secretary. He said President Bush made the right decision in nominating former Central Intelligence Agency Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld.
"This important change offers the administration and Congress an opportunity to examine all aspects of our strategy and tactics in Iraq, and make whatever changes are necessary to succeed there," he said.
The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, is vowing to hold confirmation hearings for Robert Gates in the coming weeks.
The war in Iraq was a key issue in the midterm elections. House Democratic leader Pelosi says voters sent a clear signal they want a change of course in Iraq.
"We know that stay the course is not working, has not made our country safer," she said.
Democrats captured a clear majority in the House in Tuesday's elections. But control of the Senate remains in the balance, even after Democrat Jon Tester Wednesday declared victory over the Republican incumbent, Senator Conrad Burns, in Montana, in one of this year's tightest races.
"It is the time to roll up our sleeves and get some things done," he said. "It is absolutely critically important that we change the direction of this country, and empower the middle class, empower working families and small businesses."
A recount would be allowed in the state if official results show that the margin of victory is half a percent or less of the votes cast.
A recount is also possible in Virginia, the only state yet to be decided, and the one that will determine which party controls the Senate. Democrat James Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, has a razor-thin lead over incumbent Republican Senator George Allen. The final vote counting could take a week, with a winner certified on November 27.