Republicans take House of Representatives
Washington - Resurgent Republicans smashed the Democratic power monopoly late on Tuesday, exit polls projected, in a debilitating blow to President Barack Obama just two years after he took power on a tide of hope and history.
Exploiting fear and fury over the stuttering economic rebound, Republicans grabbed back the House of Representatives, though Obama's beleaguered Democrats clung onto the Senate, albeit with a reduced majority.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, tipped to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker, warned Republicans would only work with Democrats in divided government if the president changed course.
"We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making the changes that they are demanding," a tearful Boehner told a Republican victory rally in Washington.
"To the extent he's willing to do that, we're ready to work with him. But make no mistake, the president will find in our new majority the voice of the American people as they've expressed it tonight."
Republicans on track
Television networks showed Republicans on track to easily exceed the 39 seat gain they needed to take the 435-seat House, in a result which will likely paralyse Obama's reform quest and cast doubt on his 2012 re-election hopes.
Both CNN and MSNBC projected the Republicans would post a net gain of at least 50 seats.
The result spells the end of Democrat Pelosi's historic four-year reign as the first female House speaker, with Ohio lawmaker Boehner now all but certain to take the gavel in January.
Democrats kept the Senate after Joe Manchin won the firewall Senate seat of West Virginia, the state where he is currently governor, and Barbara Boxer fought off a tough challenge from former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina in California.
"We've come to take our government back!" cried Rand Paul, a hero of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement, after winning a Senate seat in Kentucky.
"There's a Tea Party tidal wave," he said, in a coming-of-age moment for the ultra-conservative movement set up to challenge what critics see as Obama's "big-government" takeover of American life.
As well as Paul, charismatic Florida Tea Party favorite and Cuban-American Marco Rubio, who is tipped for even higher office, also surged to victory in the Senate under the ultra-conservative group's banner.
Earlier, in a last-minute bid to stem Democratic losses, Obama had pleaded with voters over the airwaves and the internet, to reject what he says is a Republican bid to revive policies which sparked the economic meltdown.
"Today, the country will make a choice about the direction we take in the years ahead," he said in an email to supporters.
"This movement was never just about one election. It was about building a movement for change that endures."
Obama was scheduled to make his first public comments on the election in a White House news conference on Wednesday which could be crucial in setting the tone for a tough run up to his 2012 election campaign.
Under Boehner, Republicans are promising to reverse Obama's sweeping health reforms and promise a budget crunch and tax cuts which they claim will cut the deficit and ignite growth.
All year, voters have made clear that the sluggish rebound from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, with unemployment standing at 9.6%, was their major concern.
"I'm unemployed for almost one year," said Republican voter Tom Gutierrez, 41, in Miami's Little Havana neighbourhood. "I need to find a job and I'm sure I will not get it with the Democrats."
But Liberty, Missouri, schoolteacher Jane Boswell said she was switching her vote to Democratic because Obama needed more time to pursue his agenda and scolded voters who "think that change has to happen overnight."
"I'm frustrated with adults who think that it has to happen immediately," Boswell said. "Right now, it's like a runaway train, switching tracks all the time."
Obama, who leaves on a nine-day tour of Asia on Friday, must now launch a re-examination of his presidency, as he seeks to renew his bond with voters in the run-up to his 2012 re-election fight.
He could choose to seek common ground with emboldened Republicans who have already said their top priority is to deprive him of a second term.
Alternatively, with his veto pen and the megaphone of the presidency, he could opt to stand his ground, hoping Republicans overreach.