— Americans who insisted they were tired of partisan divisions elected a divided Congress on Tuesday, giving Republicans control of the House of Representatives but leaving Democrats with a razor-thin hold on the Senate, NBC News projected. Among the embattled Democrats who kept his job was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the network projected.
Republicans were on track for at least a 53-seat majority in the House, NBC News projected. They knocked out some of the House's longest-serving Democrats, including John Spratt of South Carolina, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Chet Edwards of Texas and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota.
Although NBC News projected that Republicans did make gains in the Senate, picking up at least six previously Democratic seats — including the Illinois seat formerly held by President Barack Obama and another held by liberal icon Russell Feingold of Wisconsin — they fell short of a majority.
NBC News' projections indicated that Democrats would hold at least 49 seats, including Reid's in Nevada. Because the Senate's two independents caucus with the Democrats, they were expected to control at least 51 seats.
Republicans were piling up victories in governor's races across the country, but Democrats held on in two of the biggest states, NBC News projected: Andrew Cuomo beat Republican Carl Paladino, a favorite of the anti-Washington Tea Party, in New York, and three-time presidential candidate Jerry Brown returned to the governor's job in California, defeating former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman.
Boehner waits in wings
In Nevada, Reid defeated one of the Tea Party's most competitive candidates, Sharron Angle, NBC News projected.
"Friends, I'm not finished fighting," Reid, the target of some of the harshest criticism from left-leaning elements of the Democratic Party, said at a victory party shortly after midnight. "In fact, tonight I'm more determined than ever."
But if projections hold, Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio would likely succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker of a newly Republican House of Representatives.
In victory remarks late Tuesday in Washington, Boehner — who broke down in tears at one point — said it was clear that "the winners are the American people."
Boehner called the election "a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people."
The message for Obama, he said, was that he should "change course." And while he promised that "to the extent he is willing to do this, we are ready to work with him," he struck a combative tone.
"Make no mistake — the president will find in our new majority the voice of the American people as they've expressed it tonight: standing on principle, checking Washington's power and leading the drive for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government."
Boehner said that Obama called him and that they had a "brief but pleasant conversation." The White House said Obama also called Pelosi and her deputy, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, but didn't describe the nature of the calls.
It said Obama would hold a post-election news conference at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Tea Party candidates win
The impact of the Tea Party, a loose amalgamation of disenchanted voters who leaned heavily Republican in pre-election polls, was closely watched.
NBC News projected that Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida were the first Tea Party-endorsed candidates elected to the Senate. But the network projected that Christine O'Donnell lost to Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware.
The Delaware race was one of 10 that analysts said the Republicans had to win if they were going to take control in the Senate.
But in addition to O'Donnell, Republicans went down to defeat in California (where Sen. Barbara Boxer won re-election), West Virginia (where Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin beat John Raese) and Connecticut (where Democrat Richard Blumenthal beat pro wrestling mogul Linda McMahon).
Still, the returns signaled a hurricane of voter discontent with Obama and Democrats in general, as Americans delivered their verdict on the president's far-reaching health care law and economic relief efforts.
For example, in Virginia — a state Obama won in 2008 — three House Democrats who voted for his stimulus plan went down to defeat.
Rick Boucher, who was first elected in 1982, and two freshman, Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye, all lost. Boucher and Nye voted against the president's health care overhaul, while Perriello voted for it. Obama campaigned in Charlottesville for Perriello last week.
Data from pollsters' interviews with voters as they left their polling places appeared to confirm that the economy remained the No. 1 concern of American voters.
Overall, the interviews found deep disenchantment both with Congress and with Obama: 73 percent of voters disapproved of Congress and 54 percent disapproved of the job Obama is doing as president.
National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn, the senator charged with guiding GOP Senate candidates to victory, promised that the "hard work begins" immediately.
"It's going to take strong, determined leadership to deal with the problems of this country: unemployment, debt, runaway spending," Cornyn said.
"We don't want any more failed stimulus, Mr. President," he said.
Voter mobilization efforts unfolded for weeks as more than 14 million Americans cast early ballots.
In South Carolina, election officials reported that a record number of voters had cast ballots in advance. In Colorado, meanwhile, more than a million votes were already in before the polls opened Tuesday morning.
"We're very happy with the turnout we've had in an off year," said Ed McGettigan, the county clerk of Atlantic County, N.J. "We've submitted over 4,500 actual ballots into the mail, of which about 75 percent of them have been returned to the board of elections, which in an off year is a real strong number."
Interest among voters appeared high on the ground, too.
Voters waited two hours to cast their ballots in Hamilton County, Ind.; election officials in South Carolina projected that turnout would beat the last midterm election, in 2006, by 8 percentage points; and North Carolina election officials projected the highest midterm turnout in 40 years.