Republicans marched toward House control Tuesday night in midterm elections shadowed by recession, locking up enough Democratic seats to install a conservative majority certain to challenge President Barack Obama at virtually every turn. Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, his voice breaking with emotion, declared to fellow Republicans, "I'll never let you down."
But the Republicans fell short in their effort to gain control of the Senate and take full command of Congress. The GOP did gain seats in the Senate and also wrested at least seven governorships from Democrats.
Boehner and his Republicans needed to gain 40 seats for a majority, and had exactly that number in hand a few minutes before midnight in the East. They led for another 24.
The victories came in bunches — five Democratic-held seats each in Pennsylvania and Ohio and three in Florida and Virginia.
Among the House Democrats who tasted defeat was Rep. Tom Perriello, a first-termer for whom Obama campaigned just before the election.
Obama was at the White House as the returns mounted, a news conference on his Wednesday schedule.
Boehner choked back tears as he spoke to supporters in Washington.
"Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people," he said.
In Senate races, tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and 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.
Democrats conceded nothing while they still had a chance. "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, and her own four-year tenure as the first female speaker in history seemed near an end.
With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally, interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties and the federal government.
Sen.-elect Paul, appearing Tuesday night before supporters in Bowling Green, Ky., declared, "We've come to take our government back."
About four in 10 voters said they were worse off financially than two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and pre-election surveys. More than one in three said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama. More than half expressed negative views about both political parties. Roughly 40 percent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.
The preliminary findings were based on Election Day and pre-election interviews with more than 9,000 voters.
All 435 seats in the House were on the ballot, plus 37 in the Senate. An additional 37 governors' races gave Republicans ample opportunity for further gains halfway through Obama's term, although Andrew Cuomo was elected in New York for the office his father once held.