House control within reach, Republicans piled up gains Tuesday night in a drive to forge a new conservative majority midway through President Barack Obama's term. They added Senate seats, as well, but seemed likely to fall short of taking over.
"We've come to take our government back," Sen.-elect Rand Paul declared to cheering supporters at a victory party in Bowling Green, Ky., an early Republican winner on a night filled with them.
A Republican majority in the House would usher in a new era of divided government as the nation struggles to emerge from the shadow of the worst recession since the 1930s.
Among the House Democrats who tasted defeat was Rep. Tom Perriello, a first-termer for whom Obama campaigned just before the election.
In the Senate, Paul and tea party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida coasted to easy Senate victories, overcoming months of withering Democratic attacks on their conservative views. But Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, for a seat that Republican strategists once calculated would be theirs with ease.
Despite the Republicans' gains, a Senate majority seemed out of reach.
But the GOP brimmed with confidence that it would pick up the 40 seats needed to take control of the House and install Rep. John Boehner as the new speaker. "This is going to be a big day," he said as he voted near his home in West Chester, Ohio. For those who think the government is spending too much and bailing out too many, he said, "This is their opportunity to be heard."
Democrats conceded nothing. "Let's go out there and continue to fight," Speaker Nancy Pelosi exhorted supporters in remarks before television cameras while the polls were still open in much of the country.
But not long after she spoke, Democratic incumbents in both houses began falling.
Interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties and the federal government.