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Furious and frustrated, Americans punished President Barack Obama's Democrats in midterm elections, passing control of the House of Representatives to Republicans and sending a blunt message of voter discontent to the White House.

Republicans scored the biggest party turnover in more than 70 years Tuesday with their win in the House, incomplete returns showed the GOP picked up at least 60 House seats and led for four more, far in excess of what was needed for a majority. About two dozen races remained too close to call.

"We're about to do the one thing the American people want done, and that is to fire Pelosi," an exultant Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican national committee said to wildly cheering supporters.

He was referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stickhandled Mr. Obama's sweeping and controversial health-care reform.

John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who will replace Mrs. Pelosi as Speaker, sounded a warning to the President.

"I hope President Obama will respect the will of the people and change course," he said. Mr. Boehner offered co-operation but only if Mr. Obama was willing to slash spending. "This is not a time for celebration ... not when we have buried our children under a mountain of debt," Mr. Boehner said, his voice choking with emotion.

On Wednesday Mr. Boehner claimed mandate to roll back Obama's health care overhaul law, calling his party's success in narrowing the Democratic Senate majority proof that "the Obama-Pelosi agenda" was rejected by the American people.

"The American people were concerned about the government takeover of health care." He added, "I think it's important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity."

"If there's some tweaking we need to do with the healthcare bill, I'm ready for some tweaking," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday said in an interview on CNN.

"But I'm not going to in any way denigrate the great work we did as a country in saving Americans from bankruptcy because of the insurance industry bankrupting them."

A chastened Mr. Obama planned a nationally televised news conference for Wednesday presumably to explain how he plans to deal with the new - and starkly changed - political landscape.

Even as the red tide of Republican gains surged westward, Democrats managed to retain their Senate majority, albeit shaved to a handful of seats. California's incumbent Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer's victory made it impossible for the Republicans to win the Senate.

The Republicans also gained at least six Senate seats in their night of triumph, in which the Tea Party made a big splash, sending prominent personalities, including Rand Paul from Kentucky and Florida's Marco Rubio, to take Senate seats in Washington. The arrival of those Tea Party radicals will complicate Mr. Obama's task of forging compromise with moderate Republicans in a now-divided Congress.

Many Republicans have pledged to repeal or eviscerate Obamacare, as they derisively refer to Mr. Obama's signal achievement of his first two years. Mr. Rand's early victory was the first inkling that Mr. Obama's Democrats were in for a long, miserable night.

"I have a message, a message from the people of Kentucky, a message that is loud and clear, we have come to take our government back," Mr. Paul told cheering supporters at a raucous victory party. "The American people are unhappy with what's going on in Washington, … tonight there's a Tea Party tidal wave and we are sending a message."

In Indiana, Republican Dan Coats, a former ambassador to Germany, took another previously-Democratic Senate seat. And in Ohio, the Republicans added another Senate seat when Rob Portman defeated Democratic Lt.-Gov. Lee Fisher.

In Florida, Mr. Rubio, a Tea Party favourite defeated Governor Charlie Crist, a moderate Republican forced to run as an independent after Mr. Rubio won the party's nomination, and Kendrick Meek for a Senate seat in the Sunshine State.

And in Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk won a bitter contest against Democratic state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for Mr. Obama's old seat. The President had made several campaign appearances for Mr. Giannoulias, including last Saturday and Sunday.

"I know things are still tough out there, but we finally have job growth again," Mr. Obama said during a series of election day radio interviews where he urged Democrats not to falter and to help get out the vote.

But it was the anti-Obama vote - stirred by the Tea Party - that funnelled widespread anger to the polls. To Sarah Palin's mocking paraphrase "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" tens of millions of voters answered: "Badly."

Exit polls showed independents - the critical swing voters - breaking 55 per cent for Republicans. Nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work, millions have lost their homes, exit polls show a majority want health-care reform - the shining centrepiece of Mr. Obama's first two years in office - repealed.

"There are a lot of folks out there who really haven't gotten the message," said Mr. Obama in another election day interview. "All those things that we've worked so hard on over the last two years are going to be at stake." But exit polls suggested that it was the President and Democrats who had failed to heed the message of mounting discontent.

In Arkansas, another Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln went down to defeat, largely over her backing for the President's health-care plan and stimulus spending. John Boozman won the seat for the Republican.

Not all the early results were bad for the Democrats. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin, crucially won the Senate seat held for more than 50 years by Robert Byrd, who died earlier this year. And in Delaware, the Senate seat long held by Vice-President Joe Biden, also remained in Democratic control after Christopher Coons trounced flamboyant Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell.

Republicans also failed to oust Senate Majority Leader Reid in Nevada. The Democratic leader - a leading Obama supporter - won a fifth term after defeating Tea Party star Sharron Angle.

Republican hopes of taking control of the Senate depended on taking the West Virginia seat and the Democrat hold there made it likely that the President party's would retain its Senate majority.

Other Republican Senate pickups kept chipping away at the Democratic majority. In Wisconsin, the independently-minded Democrat incumbent Senator Russ Feingold was trounced by Republican Ross Johnson.

In North Dakota Republican John Hoeven won another previously-Democrat Senate seat. Not only were the President's opponents energized, his backers were disenchanted. Big promises have been shelved, quietly forgotten or dumped.

Senate races in three states and a handful of gubernatorial races remained extraordinarily close Wednesday and seemed destined for contested vote counts that could drag on for weeks.

The candidates in the Washington state and Colorado Senate races were separated by a few thousand votes after campaigns that attracted tens of millions of dollars in spending. The Republican nominee in the Alaska Senate race was already gearing up for a legal fight and sending lawyers to the state.

Several gubernatorial races were in similar territory, including Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Florida.

And in Alaska, the Senate race is headed for another nailbiter in the rematch between Senator Lisa Murkowski and Tea Party favourite Joe Miller as supporters from both sides prepared for a prolonged ballot count that could take days or weeks. Write-in ballots held the lead in the hotly contested three-person race, a potentially good sign for Ms. Murkowski's long-shot effort to keep her job. Mr. Miller narrowly beat Ms. Murkowski in the Republican primary in August, prompting her to mount the write-in bid.

Environmentalists have watched as promised "cap and trade" to curb carbon has been jettisoned, many gays are dismayed at the foot-dragging over ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and rights groups which cheered Mr. Obama's pledge to shutter Guantanamo know the prisons still attract international opprobrium. And while the President has pulled more than 100,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq, he has escalated the war in Afghanistan by roughly the same number.

But it was the grim economy that figured most prominently for voters polled in exit surveys.

Fully 88 per cent said America's economy was in bad shape and four in 10 said they were personally worse off than when Mr. Obama swept to a historic election victory two years ago.

At stake were all 435 seats in the House of Representatives where terms last only two years. Republicans need to win an additional 39 seats to wrest control from the Democrats and almost all pollsters and pundits predicted that would happen.

In the 100-seat Senate, where terms last six years, 37 seats were in play. There were also 37 states with races for governor along with thousands of state and local contests and dozens of referenda across the country; including one to legalize marijuana in California.

Although the president's party usually loses seats in midterm elections, this year's swing exceeded the 54 seats Republicans gained in 1994 - the first midterm of former president Bill Clinton's two terms. The losses - the Republicans won 59 formerly Democratic seats and led in five more by early Wednesday - are the worst since 1938 midterms, when Democrats lost 72 seats.

The GOP also wrested 10 governorships from the Democrats, Ohio and Pennsylvania among them, and gave two back, California and Hawaii.

In California, Democrat Jerry Brown defeated former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to return to the office he left more than a quarter-century ago. In New York, Andrew Cuomo won the office his father Mario held for a dozen years.

The Republican wave also produced groundbreaking results for minority candidates, from Latina and Indian-American governors to a pair of black congressmen from the Deep South.

In New Mexico, Susana Martinez was elected as the nation's first female Hispanic governor. Nikki Haley, whose parents were born in India, will be the first woman governor in South Carolina, and Brian Sandoval became Nevada's first Hispanic governor.

Insurance company owner Tim Scott will be the first black Republican congressman from South Carolina since Reconstruction, after easily winning in his conservative district. Scott, a 45-year-old state representative, earned a primary victory over the son of the one-time segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond.

In Florida, veteran Allen West ousted a two-term Democrat to a House seat. He is the first black Republican elected to Congress from Florida since a former slave served two terms in the 1870s.

The last black Republican in Congress was J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. He left office in 2003. There were 42 black Democrats in Congress this term.

With files from The Associated Press