WASHINGTON -- Republicans marched confidently to the brink of House control Tuesday night in midterm elections shadowed by recession, promising a conservative majority certain to challenge President Barack Obama at virtually every turn. The GOP gained Senate seats, as well, but a takeover there appeared out of reach.
"I'll never let you down," House Republican leader John Boehner, the likely next speaker, told tea party supporters in his home state of Ohio.
Among the House Democrats who tasted defeat was Rep. Tom Perriello, a first-termer for whom Obama campaigned just before the election.
In Senate races, tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida coasted to easy Senate victories, overcoming months of withering Democratic attacks on their conservative views. But Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, for a seat that Republican strategists once calculated would be theirs with ease.
Republicans needed a gain of 40 seats for a House majority. With polls still open on the West Coast, they had gained 34 and led for 27 more.
They picked up five Democratic-held seats in Pennsylvania, and three each in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia.
Democrats conceded nothing while they still had a chance. "Let's go out there and continue to fight," Speaker Nancy Pelosi exhorted supporters in remarks before television cameras while the polls were still open in much of the country.
But not long after she spoke, Democratic incumbents in both houses began falling, and her own four-year tenure as the first female speaker in history seemed near an end.
With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally, interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties and the federal government.
About four in 10 voters said they were worse off financially than two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and pre-election surveys. More than one in three said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama. More than half expressed negative views about both political parties. Roughly 40 percent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.
The preliminary findings were based on Election Day and pre-election interviews with more than 9,000 voters.
All 435 seats in the House were on the ballot, plus 37 in the Senate. An additional 37 governors' races gave Republicans ample opportunity for further gains halfway through Obama's term, although Andrew Cuomo was elected in New York for the office his father once held.
Republicans were certain of at least four Senate pickups, defeating veteran Sens. Russell Feingold in Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. In addition, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven claimed a seat left vacant by retirement, and former Sen. Dan Coats easily won the Indiana seat he voluntarily gave up a dozen years ago.
But Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin won in West Virginia for the unexpired portion of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's term, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was victorious in Connecticut, dispatching Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.
A Republican takeover of the House would usher in a new era of divided government after two years in which Obama and fellow Democrats pushed through an economic stimulus bill, a landmark health care measure and legislation to rein in Wall Street after the near collapse of the economy in 2008.
Republicans opposed all three of the measures, accusing the president of supporting an ever-expanding role for the government with ever-rising spending.
Obama was at the White House as the returns mounted. He scheduled a news conference for Wednesday.
Paul's triumph in Kentucky completed an improbable rise for an eye surgeon making his first race. He drew opposition from the Republican Party establishment when he first launched his bid, then struggled to adjust to a statewide race with Attorney General Jack Conway.
Appearing Tuesday night before supporters in Bowling Green, Ky., he said, "We've come to take our government back."