November 8, 2006 6:37 AM PST

Democrats seize control of House, Senate

Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on Tuesday, capping a historic election year marked by heavy use of the Internet for activism, outreach and fundraising.

But control of the U.S. Senate remained a tossup as of Wednesday morning, with the results hanging on a pair of races in Virginia and Montana that showed the major party contenders within a hair's breadth of one another.

In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb claimed 49.55 percent of the vote, just 7,304 more votes than Republican George Allen, according to the state's unofficial results. At 10 a.m. PST, the Associated Press reported that its survey of Montana counties showed there was no way Sen. Conrad Burns, the Republican incumbent, could surpass Democratic challenger Jon Tester's lead of about 3,000 votes.

Later on Wednesday, the Associated Press called both races--and therefore control of the Senate--for the Democratic challengers. In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb was leading with about 7,300 more votes than Republican George Allen, and Jon Tester was leading in Montana by about 3,000 votes.

But with the important question of House leadership finally answered, Democrats were jubilant. "From every corner of the country, the American people have sent a resounding, unmistakable message of change and a new direction for America," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Tuesday evening.

More so than in the 2004 presidential campaign, politicians turned to the Internet to stay competitive through tactics like publishing their own blogs, hiring bloggers and soliciting online donations. Not all campaign blogs succeeded, of course: plenty were abandoned soon after their creation, or remained permanently "under construction."

The Net also played a less clear but still influential role by permitting Rep. Mark Foley's lurid conversations about masturbation to be recorded--in transcripts that Democrats were able to invoke or reference in campaign advertisements designed to unseat Republican incumbents by painting them as Washington insiders or as corrupt.

Political bloggers also were some of the first to report election irregularities, especially those involving electronic voting machines.

About 39 percent of voters were expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday using electronic voting machines. Another 49 percent of voters are expected to use optical-scan voting equipment, which uses computers to tabulate paper ballots in a manner similar to standardized tests.

Sites like liberal MyDD.com and conservative RedState.com tracked reports of voter intimidation and e-voting machine malfunctioning, linking to unverifiable firsthand reports of troubles and summarizing local news reports.

Video clips took on an important role, with a YouTube-distributed recording appearing to show that a certified poll observer was threatened and barred from entering a polling station in heavily Democratic Philadelphia.

It was also the year that saw candidates--like the Libertarian Party's "Donna4Freedom"--using MySpace pages as campaign sites. In Washington, D.C., CNN hosted an election night blogfest at a trendy coffee shop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

One big question was whether bloggers would gain access to the results of exit polls, which are based on interviews performed at polling places and leaked before polls closed in previous elections. This year, though, the networks kept those results strictly confidential and seem to have largely succeeded in keeping a lid on them.

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