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Decisive losses in Florida Congressional races match national wave

Florida voters swept four Democratic members of Congress from office, part of a wave of victories that delivered the House of Representatives to Republicans, dramatically redrawing the lines of power in Washington.

Ohio Rep. John Boehner, expected to be the new House speaker, cast the landslide results as a "repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government and a repudiation of politicians who refused to listen to the American people."

But Democrats withstood a series of strong challenges in the Senate and barely maintained control of the chamber. The GOP picked up seats in the Senate, but wins in Connecticut, California, Nevada and West Virginia preserved the Democratic majority.

Republicans as of late Tuesday were in position to take at least 60 House seats, decisively ending Nancy Pelosi's reign as speaker and complicating, if not blocking, Obama's agenda for the next two years.

Central Florida Reps. Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas, both of whom took seats from Republicans two years ago, were among the first incumbents to fall anywhere.

Voters extended their dissatisfaction to North Florida, where seven-term Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd lost a bitter re-election fight, and to South Florida, where two-term Rep. Ron Klein lost to tea party favorite Allen West.

All four Democrats had voted for the health care bill, and it was the dominant challenge in their re-election bids. None of the races were close, with Republicans winning by 9 or more percentage points, according to preliminary results.

Democrats even fell flat in one of their few chances nationally to pick up a seat, when Miami Republican David Rivera outlasted Joe Garcia in a bitterly waged contest over the open congressional District 25 seat.

Florida Republicans expanded their grip to hold 19 of the state's 25 congressional districts.

Grayson's defeat will be relished by Republicans nationally. In two years he became a controversial, outspoken figure known for his strong anti-Republican rhetoric — "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals," he once said on CNN. But he and Kosmas were always in a precarious spot, having taken seats that were held by Republicans.

More significant was the defeat of two-term incumbent Klein, who in 2006 ended the 26-year career of Republican Clay Shaw, and the seven-term Boyd, who joins a dying breed of conservative Democrats in the rural South.

"Florida is a microcosm of the rest of the country," said Darryl Paulson, a retired political scientist from the University of South Florida. "We've been impacted by the same issues and the same political movements. People are just disgruntled with Democrats."

Nationally, the GOP wins in the House outpaced 1994, when 52 seats flipped to their control, and was the most by either party since 1948. Republicans needed 39 seats to take control.

"It sends a big message to Democrats that they didn't focus on the issues that were most important to voters," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The strong majority could embolden Republicans to press to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthy, that expire at the end of the year.

The Republican wave was seen early in Florida and Indiana and Virginia, where incumbents were swept away en masse. Included was Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia, who got a visit from the president on Friday, a last-ditch effort to save him.

The Senate looked slightly better for Democrats. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada held off Republican Sharron Angle, a tea party-backed candidate.

In Delaware, surprise Republican primary winner Christine O'Donnell could not overcome embarrassing revelations about her past, including dabbling in witchcraft, and was defeated by Democrat Chris Coons. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin held off millionaire Republican John Raese to keep a Democrat in the seat held for half a century by the late Robert C. Byrd.

And Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal prevailed despite a $50-million advertising blitz by professional wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, to hold a seat being vacated by Democrat Chris Dodd.

Still, the Senate will have a sharper conservative makeup with victories by Florida's Marco Rubio, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Kentucky's Rand Paul, who was one of the earliest victors Tuesday and the first big one for the tea party.

"We've come to take our government back" Paul said in his victory speech. "They say that the U.S. Senate is the world's most deliberative body. I'm going to ask them to deliberate on this: The American people are unhappy with what's going on in Washington."

• • •

Republican wins were largely fueled by the poor economy. Florida has one of the worst in the country, its unemployment rate at nearly 12 percent.

Exit polls across the country showed that 8 out of 10 voters are worried about the direction of the economy and more than 4 in 10 said their family's financial picture had worsened over the past two years.

Three-quarters of Florida voters described themselves as dissatisfied or angry with the federal government, and Rubio got the overwhelming majority of those votes, according to preliminary results from Edison Research.

About a third of voters said they cast ballots to express opposition to President Barack Obama and Rubio got most of that support as well.

Slightly more than half of Florida voters said they disapproved of how Obama was handling his job as president, according to the preliminary results. Four in 10 favored repealing Obama's signature health care law, with those voters solidly backing Rubio.

Over the past year, Republicans have been more effective in stirring concern over the new health care law than Democrats were in portraying its benefits.

Times staff writer Angie Drobnic Holan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Decisive losses in Florida Congressional races match national wave 11/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 2:01am]
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