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GOP leaders tout wins as referendum on the Democratic leadership

By Felicia Sonmez

Fresh off sweeping wins in Tuesday's midterm elections, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour said Wednesday morning at a Capitol news conference that their resounding victories were a referendum on Democratic leadership.

Democrats, meanwhile, cast their defeat at the ballot box as the result of Americans' continuing frustration with the pace of economic recovery as well as a flood of spending by outside groups.

Republicans' across-the-board wins "sent a very loud message" that voters want a "smaller, less costly and more accountable government here in Washington, D.C.," Boehner said.

McConnell told reporters that the election showed that "choosing the president over your constituents is not a good strategy," and that voters "appreciated us saying no to the things the American people indicated they were not in favor of."

Barbour added that even Tuesday's governors' races were a referendum on the way things are going in Washington.

The trio addressed reporters one day after Republicans captured the House with gains of more than five dozen seats. In the Senate, Democrats narrowly avoided the doomsday scenario of losing their majority, and in gubernatorial races, the GOP saw big wins, although the Democratic Governors Association managed to win the governor's mansions in Hawaii, Connecticut and Vermont.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen noted, as Republicans did, that Democrats' losses came about due to voter anger -- but he argued that voters were frustrated not with the Democratic leadership but rather with the still-struggling economy.

"Last night's election was a perfect political storm born out of the understandable frustration felt by the American people in response to high unemployment caused by the worst financial crash since the Great Depression," Van Hollen said. He added that "the record amount of secret money spent by right-wing outside groups turned this political storm into a category 3 political hurricane."

Boehner said that he spoke with President Obama Tuesday night and that the two "discussed working together." Boehner also said that he received a "very nice voicemail" from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and that he expects the coming transition in leadership to be "very smooth."

The Republican leader said that his party stands ready to work together with the president and Democrats when their goals align with the interest of the American people.

"We'll work with the administration when they agree with the people and confront them when they don't," Boehner said, citing spending, trade, debt and nuclear power as areas of possible bipartisan cooperation.

Notably absent from the news conference was Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who addressed reporters separately in a conference call earlier Wednesday.

"Last night was historic. It was important. But it was also sobering in many respects," said Steele, cautioning that "with this victory comes an enormous responsibility."

Steele, who is said to be considering a bid for a second term as RNC chairman despite a steady stream of calls for his ouster, also talked at length on the conference call about his own committee's role in the GOP's victories Tuesday.

But he also cast the party's wins as an "enormous moment" for the grass roots and that "no single person or committee does this alone."

Other party committees and conservative-leaning outside groups touted their respective roles in Tuesday's sweeping wins as well.

Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which saw the biggest gains of the day, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning that the NRCC's role Tuesday was crucial in the defeats of longtime Democratic incumbents such as Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.) and John Spratt (S.C.).

"I think there are a lot of people who can take credit for this," Harrison said, adding that "the fact is, our candidates would not have won without the help of the NRCC." Harrison also credited Boehner in particular for helping Republicans make gains in suburban districts and throughout the leader's home state of Ohio.

Meanwhile, the leadership of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two conservative-leaning outside groups that played heavily this cycle, said in a roundtable with reporters Wednesday that their groups were instrumental in many big important GOP wins. The two groups raised more than $70 million total, much of which came from donors who opted against contributing to the beleaguered RNC.

American Crossroads Political Director Carl Forti said that the two groups had poured a total of more than $36 million into 13 Senate races and 18 House races since April. Forti noted that by being active in races such as the Kentucky and Missouri Senate contests, the groups freed up the National Republican Senatorial Committee to spend its resources on races in Democratic-leaning states such as Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Forti added that the groups "made a committed effort to expand the playing field in the House" by advertising in districts that were long thought to be safely in Democratic hands.

Asked whether the RNC could have done things differently this cycle, Mike Duncan, chairman of American Crossroads and a onetime chairman of the RNC, demurred.

"We're all part of a team," Duncan said, adding, "This is not about credit."

By Felicia Sonmez  | November 3, 2010; 2:18 PM ET
Categories:  Governors, House, Senate  
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Next: The Fix's 2010 Election Winners and Losers

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