Democrats capture Congress in Nov. 7 election

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., conceded a tight electoral race to Democratic challenger James Webb on Nov. 9, giving Democrats control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.

Webb’s victory means that the Democrats took control of six seats previously held by Republicans, the exact number needed for a Democratic majority in the Senate. Democrats also took control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

President Bush must now contend with a congress controlled by his political opponents for the final two years of his presidency.

Webb’s Senate race was not the only one still in question the day after the election. Another Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns of Montana, was trailing to Democratic candidate Jon Tester. The state had recounts Wednesday and confirmed Tester as the winner.

Tester, a Democrat who supports gun rights and opposes amnesty for illegal immigration, is one of several newly elected politicians the media are treating as a new breed of Democrats. They are more socially conservative than the rest of the party has been traditionally.

Tester emphasized higher education as one of his key platforms in his bid for election, something eschewed by many of his counterparts on the campaign trail.

Many candidates overlooked higher education as a topic to draw in voters.

In a poll conducted a week before the election by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling group, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they hadn’t heard enough from candidates about college affordability.

The survey polled 650 18-30 year olds, of whom 80 percent said that college affordability was a top issue in their voting decision.

“The government sees the war in Iraq and terrorism as the top issues and are not focusing on higher education right now,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.

As the results of Tuesday’s election show, the majority of a nation wants a change in the leadership and direction of the country. Iraq is still a top issue, but the concern is getting out of the situation, not staying in.

Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, who is expected to replace Congressman Dennis Hastert as the next Speaker of the House, has targeted college affordability as one of her priorities while in leadership.

Higher education policy was a more important issue in state elections. There were 36 gubernatorial races, many of which were influenced by education.

Democrat Martin O’Malley, the mayor of Baltimore, heavily emphasized the reduction of state support for higher education which had come during incumbent Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s term as governor of Maryland.

Ehrlich used cuts of almost $120 million from education funding to balance the budget, leading to tuition costs at some public colleges in Maryland to increase as much as 40 percent in four years.

“Many states have been in recessions and cut funding for higher-education,” said Luke Swarthout, a higher education advocate for the State Public Interest Research Group. “As they have come out of the recession, they have not increased funding again.”

O’Malley won his race, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidates Mike Beebe of Arkansas, Chet Culver of Iowa, Ted Strickland of Ohio, and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, none of whom were incumbents. All five emphasized higher education in their campaigns.

Patrick is the second African-American elected governor in United States history.

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