"We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, No. 2 Republican in the House, said as his party prepared to usher in an era of divided government. He called the outcome a rejection of Obama more than an endorsement of the GOP, cautioning fellow Republicans they must to work to win public confidence.
Republicans scored the biggest party turnover in more than 70 years Tuesday with their win in the House and, in doing so, will dethrone Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi - a prime target of their campaign - who had crashed a political glass ceiling and made history with her elevation to speaker four years ago.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, overcame a tea party challenge from Republican Sharron Angle in one of the election's most brutally fought races.
Reid said Wednesday the two parties now will have to work together and Republicans cannot be merely obstructionist. "Just saying no doesn't do the trick," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
But Republican Rand Paul, who won a Kentucky Senate seat in a race powered by tea party support, said "debate is healthy."
He told NBC's "Today" show: "People complain a lot about gridlock but whenever you analyze government, federal government or state government, it seems like the most fiscally conservative government is always divided government."
Earlier, Obama called Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the House speaker-in-waiting, to congratulate him. He also spoke with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and top Democrats in a series of conversations that reflected the shifting balance of power.
The Republican leaders penciled in a late-morning news conference, to be followed a short while later by Obama's own meeting with reporters at the White 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.
On their night of triumph, Republicans also gained at least six Senate seats, and tea party favorites Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Marco Rubio in Florida were among their winners.
Not all the tea party insurgents won. Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, for a seat that Republican strategists once calculated would be theirs with ease. And in Nevada, Reid dispatched Angle in an especially costly and contentious campaign in a year filled with them.
His win left three races still unresolved - in Colorado, Washington and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican nomination earlier this fall.
The GOP also wrested 10 governorships from the Democrats, Ohio and Pennsylvania among them, and gave two back, California and Hawaii.
In New York, Andrew Cuomo won the office his father, Mario, held for three terms. And in California, Jerry Brown was successful in his bid for a comeback to the governor's office he occupied for two terms more than a quarter-century ago.
The biggest win by far was the House, a victory made all the more remarkable given the drubbing Republicans absorbed at the hands of Democrats in the past two elections. Their comeback was aided by independents, who backed GOP candidates for the first time since 2004, by a margin of 55 percent to 39 percent. Women backed Democrats 49-48, after favoring them by a dozen points in recent elections.
The takeaways came in bunches - five Democratic-held seats each in Pennsylvania and Ohio and three in Florida and Virginia. Incumbents sent to defeat included three committee chairmen, Ike Skelton in Missouri, James Oberstar in Minnesota and John Spratt in South Carolina, as well as Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, in Congress more than a quarter-century.
Democrats conceded nothing while they still had a chance. "Let's go out there and continue to fight," Pelosi exhorted supporters in remarks before television cameras while the polls were still open in much of the country.