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Democrats reclaim House in close election

Ryan Sydlik | Wednesday, November 8, 2006

After a neck-and-neck, negative campaign that drew national attention, Democratic challenger and Notre Dame graduate Joe Donnelly defeated incumbent Republican Chris Chocola in Tuesday’s election for control of Indiana’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

American Studies professor and South Bend Tribune political columnist Jack Colwell said Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District was a more favorable environment for Donnelly than it was in 2004.

“[Donnelly] needed to do better [to win compared to last election] and he did,” Colwell said.

Colwell said Donnelly polled well, not losing by much to Chocola even in the strongly Republican areas.

“This time [Donnelly] took advantage of St Joseph and LaPorte County,” he said. “He also held his own and didn’t get trounced in the Republican county.”

Colwell said Chocola had a perfect storm against him, comprised of public sentiment against Iraq, Republican scandals and economic problems. And although they were not national issues, Colwell said, Chocola was also hurt by opposition to Indiana’s daylight savings time change and the sale of the toll road by Republican governor Mitch Daniels.

In addition to Donnelly, several other Notre Dame alumni performed well Tuesday. The following results were those projected at press time.

Incumbents Democrat Peter Visclosky of Indiana’s 1st district and Republican Mark Souder of Indiana’s 3rd district both won their re-election bids.

Notre Dame graduates Michael Ferguson of New Jersey’s 7th district, Peter King of New York’s 3rd district and Michael Lungren of California’s 3rd district were also re-elected.

Three Saint Mary’s graduates were re-elected to their House seats, including Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas’ 30th district, Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands and Madeleine Zeien Bordallo of Guam.

At press time, the Associated Press had declared a loss for Saint Mary’s alumna Anne M. Northup, incumbent representative of Kentucky’s 3rd district.

Colwell discussed the implications of possible election outcomes on the U.S. Congress. At 2 a.m. Wednesday, the House had been declared for the Democrats, but the control of the Senate remained undecided – though media outlets were tentatively giving the Democrats a very close win.

He said if the Democrats had won some seats but failed to capture the House of Representatives, it would not have been considered a victory.

A Democratically-controlled House, Colwell explained, will likely have a major impact on the country by blocking President Bush’s legislative agenda.

“If they don’t vote [with the President], he can’t get what he wants,” Colwell said.

Colwell said a Democratic victory in the House, but not in the Senate, would result in legislative gridlock.

If the Democrats win both the House and Senate, it will be a monumental victory for the party, he said.

“It would be a real message that voters were upset with Bush [and] the way the country was going,” Colwell said.

Colwell said the Iraq War, recent scandals among high-ranking Republican leaders and the economy were all issues that likely hurt Republicans in their efforts to hold onto political power.

He said though the stock market was doing well and gas prices were down, many people seemed to feel their own salaries were not keeping pace with inflation and that they were losing benefits.

Colwell also said scandals such as Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate e-mails to teenage male Congressional pages might have disillusioned Republican voters – especially the “Religious Right.”

With at least half – if not both sides – of Congress now in control of the Democrats, current national and international policies could be re-evaluated.

Colwell said based on prior statements, Democrats would, as a whole, not try to immediately withdraw from Iraq.

Rather, he said, Democrats might push for different ways to attempt to stabilize the country and would criticize prior actions made there as mistakes. There may also be, he said, a strong push for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation.

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Major national races decided by press time include:

u Pennsylvania Senate: Democrat Robert Casey, Jr. defeats incumbent Republican Rick Santorum

u Arkansas Governor: Democrat Mike Beebe defeats incumbent Republican Asa Hutchinson

u Connecticut Senate: “Independent Democrat” incumbent Joe Lieberman defeats Democrat Ned Lamont, after losing the state’s Democratic primary.

u Michigan Governor: Democrat incumbent Jennifer Granholm defeats Republican Richard DeVos.

u New York Senate: Democrat incumbent Hillary Clinton defeats Republican John Spencer.

u California Governor: Republican incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger defeats Democrat Philip Angelides.

u Pennsylvania Governor: Democrat incumbent Ed Rendell defeats Republican – and Pro Football Hall of Famer – Lynn Swann.

u Texas, 22nd District: Democrat Nicholas Lampson defeats Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. Republican Tom DeLay represented the district before his resignation.

u Maryland Governor: Democrat Martin O’Malley defeats Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich.