Senator-elect, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), delivers his victory speech to supporters during a GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, in Denver, Colo., Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014. Gardner defeated his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. The departure of Udall means Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden will lose his closest ally on issues of privacy and government spying. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
WASHINGTON (AP) —America awoke Wednesday to sharper dividing lines in an already divided government, forcing a weakened President Barack Obama to recalibrate his approach and giving Republican leaders in Congress new muscle to check him.
The president scheduled an afternoon news conference to offer his take on an Election Day thumping of Democrats that gave Republicans control of the Senate, strengthened the GOP hold on the House and put a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors.
One of Obama's first post-election calls was to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, positioned to become the new Senate majority leader and confront the president over his signature health care law and on other issues. The two didn't connect, but Obama left a message for the senator, the White House said.
The election results alter the national political dynamic on immigration reform, budget matters, presidential nominations and much more. With lawmakers planning to return to Washington next week for a post-election session, Obama invited congressional leaders to a meeting Friday.
"We are humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed with us, but this is not a time for celebration," said House Speaker John Boehner, who will preside over a larger caucus come January. "It's time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy."
With the 2014 midterms in the rearview mirror, 2016 and the next presidential race loom large. It was no coincidence that two potential GOP contenders for 2016 — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — turned up on morning talk shows Wednesday to deconstruct the results and cast them as a good sign for the GOP going forward.
Obama will have early opportunities to set a new tone in dealing with the Republicans who will be fully in control of Congress come January.
He has promised immigration advocates that he'll issue presidential orders this year to shield from deportation millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, but three GOP senators had asked him to hold off on that. Obama also could act on the long-delayed Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has wide bipartisan support in Congress, in order to avert an early showdown with the new Congress.
Voters expressed bitterness with a sluggish economic recovery and the nation's handling of foreign crises. Nearly two-thirds of voters interviewed after casting ballots said the country was seriously on the wrong track. Only about 30 percent said the nation was headed in the right direction.
More than 4 in 10 voters disapproved of both Obama and Congress, according to the exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.
Obama's poor approval ratings turned him into a liability for Democrats seeking re-election. The outcome offered parallels to the sixth year of Republican George W. Bush's presidency, when Democrats won sweeping victories amid voter discontent with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The election results were resounding:
Senate Republicans tagged their Democratic opponents with voting in lockstep with Obama and it worked: The GOP took over formerly Democratic Senate seats in seven states.
With three races yet to be settled, the GOP had claimed 52 seats in the next Senate, to win back the majority for the first time since 2006.
Senate races in Virginia and Alaska were still to be settled, and Louisiana was headed for a Dec. 6 runoff between three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
In the House, Republicans were on track to meet or exceed the 246 seats they held during President Harry S. Truman's administration more than 60 years ago.
In state capitols, Republicans picked up governors' seats in reliably Democratic states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. With Congress grappling with gridlock, states have been at the forefront of efforts to raise the minimum wage and implement Obama's health care law.
Many Republican governors seeking re-election had struggled with poor approval ratings but prevailed, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who defeated Democrat Charlie Crist; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
Democrats had few bright spots. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, who campaigned with potential 2016 candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton last weekend, both won re-election. In Pennsylvania, businessman Tom Wolf dispatched GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.