Some of the Democratic Party's heaviest hitters went down in the House on Tuesday, a sign of the breadth and scope of voter discontent with incumbents regardless of their clout or the perks they brought home to constituents.
The shocking upsets included three powerful committee chairmen and a host of others who were ousted at their peak of influence.
Rep. Ike Skelton, a 34-year incumbent and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, lost his central Missouri seat despite a reputation as a conservative Democrat who won millions for his district's two military bases.
In South Carolina, House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt lost a hard-fought campaign for a 15th term in a district that had not elected a Republican since 1883.
And Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, dean of Minnesota's congressional delegation, succumbed to a political novice after 36 years of seeking more money to fix highways and bridges and bringing pork-barrel projects home.
"When you want to topple a regime, you try to decapitate it, and they have decapitated the leadership of the Democratic Party," said Ross Baker, a congressional scholar at Rutgers University.
All three lawmakers — among the most prominent and respected members of Congress — lost to Republicans who courted tea party support in districts that have turned increasingly conservative.
National Republican groups targeted the veteran incumbents in part because of their prominence and their links to Democratic leadership, tapping into deep voter frustration over the nation's economic woes.
Other high-profile Democrats who lost in the Republican wave include 26-year incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania, 10-term Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas and nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota.
Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, in line to be the new House speaker, said voters had sent a message that President Barack Obama needs to "change course."
"Across the country, right now, we're witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people," Boehner told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night.
That was the message from Skelton's opponent, former Missouri House member Vicky Hartzler, who accused the congressman of defying his district too often by voting with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She branded the $814 billion economic stimulus plan as wasteful spending and opposed the federal health care overhaul.
Skelton, who trumpeted his political independence and his vote against Obama's health care plan, was counting on his reputation as a moderate who survived for years in a district that leans Republican.
Spratt was unseated by first-term state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, who positioned himself as a tea party conservative supporting limited government and greater accountability. Mulvaney hammered Spratt for his support of the stimulus bill, cap-and-trade legislation and the 2010 health care overhaul.
In Minnesota, Oberstar came under similar criticism from his Republican opponent, former Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot Chip Cravaack. Cravaack defeated Oberstar by less than 2 percentage points.