It was, as President Bush put it in a White House news conference, "a thumpin'" for Republicans up and down the ballot. It was also the biggest defeat of Bush's presidency, depriving him of a governing majority in Washington and raising new doubts about his effectiveness and agenda in his final two years in office.
The outcome brought an end to the Republican Revolution that began in 1994 but lost its way as the party that came to Washington to cut government spending and clean up a corrupt institution ran into scandals of its own and found itself spending like drunken Democrats. Meanwhile, the vote increases the onus on Democrats to go beyond merely criticizing the President and show voters they have a constructive agenda of their own.
If the results were not a stinging referendum on the Bush presidency, they certainly represent a vote of no confidence on the war in Iraq, which has claimed more than 2000 American lives and left more than 20,000 soldiers injured almost four years after its beginning. It also suggested that Americans were unhappy with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the explosion of the deficit on the Republican watch.
Democrats scored early in the evening by taking away the governors' mansions in Massachusetts, Ohio and New York and then rolled up a 15-seat gain at a minimum with wins in traditionally G.O.P. districts in Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Other Republicans looked certain to fall as the tabulations continued through the night. As a result, Democrats will control a majority of seats in the House and in America's governors' mansions for the first time since 1994.
Meanwhile, Democrats had reason to be pleased, if not thrilled, by the outcome. Democrats were poised to make, at the very least, significant gains in the Senate, where they needed six seats to take control of the chamber.
Democratic candidates took seats from Republicans in Rhode Island, Ohio and Pennsylvania by midway through the evening. Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Sen. Jim Talent early Wednesday morning. But it would be several hours, if not several days, before the outcome of the contests was known in Montana and Virginia.
In both contests, however, the Democrat was ahead. State Senator Jon Tester was ahead, but just barely, of incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in Montana. And Democratic challenger Jim Webb clung to a thin lead over incumbent Sen. George Allen in Virginia.