Democrats head toward expected gains in Congress

Virginia's former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner won the seat of retiring Republican Sen. John Warner in Tuesday election as Democrats tried to expand their control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress, Reuters reported.

Riding a wave of resentment against Republican President George W. Bush, Democrats had a shot at winning their biggest Senate majority in three decades, polls showed, one that could clear Republican procedural hurdles.

Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was in trouble as early returns showed him in a close race against Democratic Bruce Lunsford, a businessman, in Kentucky.

Democrats, who control the Senate, 51-49, have a plausible shot to reach 60, the number needed to clear Republican hurdles for their first filibuster-proof majority in three decades. A total of 35 Senate seats are up for election this year.

Warner defeated a fellow former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, to capture the seat held since 1979 by John Warner. The two Warners are not related.

Virginia has long been a solid Republican state but it has become increasing Democratic over the past few years -- so much so that Democrats now will hold both Senate seats and the governor's chair.

Democrats control the House, 235-199, and were expected to pickup as many as 30 or more seats, giving them their biggest House majority since the mid-1980s.

If Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama also prevails, the new Congress that convenes in January should be able to keep a long list of campaign promises.

They include ones to withdraw U.S. troops from the Iraq war, roll back tax cuts for the rich and move to end the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But regardless of how many seats Democrats pick up, record federal deficits and the poor state of the economy will limit what they can do.

Democrats would likely have to limit or postpone any big new spending programs, such as ones to expand health care, upgrade education and advance renewable energy technology.

Of the 35 Senate seats are up for election, 23 are now held by Republicans, the others by Democrats. All 435 House seats are up for election.

Even if Senate Democrats fail to reach 60, they are expected to expand their majority by at least several seats and are hopeful they can pickup a few moderate Republicans to end a number of filibusters.

Democrats won control of Congress from Bush's Republicans in 2006. But Republicans blocked much of the Democrats' agenda the past two years -- on matters from expanding health care to withdrawing troops from Iraq -- with Senate filibusters.

Republicans running for Congress this year have hurt by the unpopularity of Bush and presidential nominee John McCain's inability to rally support in states that have traditionally backed Republicans.

In addition to McConnell, other incumbent Senate Republicans targeted by Democrats included: North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole, wife of 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole; Alaska's Ted Stevens, convicted last month of political corruption, and New Hampshire's John Sununu.

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