Old bulls swept away by GOP tide

The wave of voter discontent that swept House Republicans back to power Tuesday also took with it some of the most seasoned and influential Democrats on Capitol Hill.

From South Carolina to Texas, from Virginia to North Dakota, Democratic warhorses — some with decades of experience — discovered the hard way that neither their time in Washington nor their perches atop powerful committees was enough to convince voters they were worth a trip back to Washington.


Instead, their incumbency became something of an albatross at a time when federal spending is at an historic high, unemployment is tickling 10 percent and voters no longer believe that deficits don’t matter.

Nowhere was the trend more evident than in Missouri, where 17-term Rep. Ike Skelton (D), the mild-mannered chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, lost his reelection bid to Republican Vicky Hartzler, a former state legislator who ran on a platform of preserving heterosexual marriage. 

Skelton, who will turn 79 in December, suffered the stunning upset after three decades of winning by wide margins in Missouri's conservative Fourth district, where GOP presidential candidate John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE won easily in 2008.

Known for coyness and caution, Skelton this year took some strong stands against his own leadership: He opposed healthcare reform and the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Pentagon's ban on openly gay people serving in the military.

Still, Skelton took a hit for supporting other controversial Democratic priorities, including the stimulus package and legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

A similar scenario played out in South Carolina, where 14-term Rep. John Spratt (D) fell to GOP state Sen. Mick Mulvaney in the challenger's first run at Congress. 

Spratt, the influential head of the House Budget Committee, won the seat with 62 percent of the vote just two years ago. But he also supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout, last year's economic stimulus bill and the new health reform law — a trifecta that didn't play well in a conservative district that supported GOP presidential candidate John McCain to the tune of 53 percent two years ago.

It also didn't help that Spratt was Budget chairman at a time when annual deficits jumped well above $1 trillion, as federal revenues fell and spending increased amid the recession.

Smelling blood, conservatives had gunned at Spratt for months, with outside groups alone spending more than $1 million to unseat the seasoned lawmaker, who's also the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Voter turnout was also a likely factor leading to Spratt's loss. Although South Carolina's Fifth District is almost one-third African American — a demographic that votes reliably Democratic — Spratt this year didn't have the advantage of sharing the ticket with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Biden says he'd meet with Trump 'if he asked' Biden-Harris ticket the first in US history to surpass 80 million votes MORE

In some districts, the Democrats' legislative records seemed to make little difference in voters' minds. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), for instance, has opposed most of his party's legislative priorities; he's the only Democrat to sign the Republican petition to repeal healthcare reform; and he voted for McCain for president in 2008, rather than Obama. 

No matter. The 11-term Blue Dog — who won his 2008 contest with 75 percent of the vote — was defeated Tuesday by GOP state Rep. Steven Palazzo.

Rep. Rick Boucher was also ousted Tuesday. The 14-term Democrat representing Virginia's coal country was haunted on the campaign trail for last year's vote in favor of climate change legislation — a proposal wildly unpopular with the coal industry.

There were others.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) is a 13-term lawmaker and the second-ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. He lost to Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James Barletta10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed Bottom Line Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs MORE, Republican mayor of Hazelton, Pa., who's built a reputation for being tough on illegal immigration. 

Yet another casualty of the pendulum shift was Rep. Chet Edwards, a 10-term Texas Democrat who ranks 13th among members of the coveted Appropriations Committee. On the campaign trail, Edwards touted his opposition to the Democrats' health reform and climate change bills — to no avail.  

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) also fell victim to the GOP wave. The nine-term Blue Dog was defeated by GOP state legislator Rick Berg, marking the first time in 30 years that a Republican will hold North Dakota's lone House seat. 

Pomeroy, the chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, was dogged by his support for the health reform bill, and late efforts to distance himself from Obama and other liberal party leaders failed to convince voters of his independence. 

Republican leaders were quick to point to Tuesday's returns as "a repudiation" of the Democrat's policies — and a vindication of the GOP's obstructionism of the past two years. 

“Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington; a repudiation of big government; and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people,” said House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE (R-Ohio), who's slated to take over as Speaker next year. “We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making the changes they are demanding.”