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updated 11/3/2010 3:58:35 PM ET 2010-11-03T19:58:35

Emboldened by a commanding House majority and Senate gains, Republican leaders vowed Wednesday to roll back the size of government and, in time, the nation's sweeping health care law. President Barack Obama, reflective after his party's drubbing, accepted blame for failing to deliver the economic security Americans demand while saying of his health overhaul: "This was the right thing to do."

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He called the election a Democratic "shellacking" and lamented that "we lost track of the ways we connected with the folks who got us here in the first place."

"Some election nights are more fun than others," he said.

Obama said Tuesday's results confirmed what he's heard from voters across the country: People are frustrated. He said the lesson of election was that he hasn't made enough progress in creating jobs.

After two years with fellow Democrats leading Congress, Obama now must deal for the rest of his term with the jarring reality of Republican control of the House, a diminished Democratic majority in the Senate and a new flock of lawmakers sworn to downsize government at every chance.

"I've got to do a better job," he said, "like everybody else in Washington." And he took responsibility for not doing enough to alter the ways of the capital, whether its hyper-partisanship or back-room dealing. "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things were done."

Republicans sounded less conciliatory in the first blush of their victories from the midterm elections Tuesday.

Video: Boehner claims mandate to repeal health bill ‘monstrosity’ (on this page)

"Change course we will," said Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the speaker-in-waiting, describing the outcome as a clear mandate to shrink the government. That echoed the unrelenting demand of tea party activists whose energy and votes helped to fuel the largest turnover in the House in more than 70 years.

The capital awoke — if it ever slept — to a new political order. With their lopsided win, Republicans are ushering in a new era of divided government and dethroning Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a prime target of their campaign.

Repealing the health care law, with its mandates and subsidies to extend health insurance to nearly all Americans, has been a Republican rallying cry for months but Obama, with his veto power, and the Democrats still in control of the Senate stand in the way. Several Republicans indicated their challenge to the law won't happen overnight when they take power.

Video: Obama remarks on midterm elections (on this page)

"I think it is important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity," Boehner said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who survived a tea party challenge in Nevada, said "I'm ready for some tweaking" on the health care law but would fight its repeal. Obama, too, indicated he was open to changes, saying Republicans who complain about the burden on small businesses might have a point. But he was not about to see his signature achievement unravel at its core.

In the heady election aftermath, some Republicans cautioned their own that they have work to do in building public trust when many Americans are fed up with both parties.

"We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, No. 2 Republican in the House. But, he added, "People want to see results."

Sizing up the power shift, Reid said he wants to preserve Obama's health care law and let taxes rise on upper income Americans, but "I'm not bullheaded."

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"If we need to work something out with the people who are really rich, I'll have to look at that," he said. "If there's some tweaking we need to do with the health care bill, I'm ready for some tweaking. But I'm not going to in any way denigrate the great work we did as a country, and saving America from bankruptcy because of the insurance industry bankrupting us."

The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sounded anything but humble in declaring "we are indeed humbled and ready to listen." At a news conference with Boehner, McConnell said Republicans will cooperate with the other side to the extent Democrats "pivot in a different direction." He predicted enough Democrats may support the GOP on spending and debt matters to achieve action on that front.

Obama called Boehner to congratulate him late Tuesday. He also spoke with McConnell and top Democrats in a series of conversations that reflected the shifting balance of power. Boehner said Pelosi called and "left me a very nice voice mail" when she missed him, and they will speak later.

Vote: Agree or disagree with Boehner on health plan?

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.

Republicans gained at least six Senate seats, and tea party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Marco Rubio in Florida were among their winners. Their comeback was aided by independents, who backed GOP candidates for the first time since 1998.

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 until her stunning upset victory in the primary.

Story: With governor wins, GOP gains clout to fight health law

In Nevada, Reid dispatched Sharron Angle in an especially costly and contentious campaign in a year filled with them.

The GOP also wrested 11 governorships from the Democrats, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maine among them, and gave two back, California and Hawaii.                       

NBC News, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: After the GOP surge

  1. Transcript of: After the GOP surge

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And about last night , what were the voters across this country trying to say? Well, they split up the government, they made it very clear they don't like the way things are being run. That means the president, that means the Democrats , the government as a whole and the US economy , most of all. Some veteran office holders are packing up and going home , and some newcomers are coming to Washington . About a third of them, 32 percent of the candidates who were elected last night across this country, are affiliated with the tea party movement. It was a tough message from the voters, a clear message . The president was asked today whether he got it. And for a lot of incumbents, there was no mistaking it. Our team is here, reassembled on no sleep. And we begin our reporting this new night with our political director, Chuck Todd . What a night it was, Chuck .

    CHUCK TODD reporting: That's for sure. Look, the day after an election is all about defining what the meaning is out of the elections. Well, it was done at dueling press conferences today from President Obama to Republican Speaker-to-be John Boehner . Triumphant Republicans made it clear they intend to reset the agenda.

    Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Minority Leader): Well, the American people spoke, and I think it's pretty clear that the Obama - Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people . They want -- as I said last night , they want the president to change course, and I think it's change course we will.

    TODD: While a chastened president tried to put the best face he could on the results.

    President BARACK OBAMA: Every election, regardless of who wins and who loses, is a reminder that, in our democracy, power rests not with those of us in elected office, but with the people we have the privilege to serve.

    TODD: Asked repeatedly what went wrong for Democrats , Mr. Obama accepted some responsibility.

    Pres. OBAMA: I think the overwhelming message that I hear from the voters is that we want everybody to act responsibly in Washington , we want you to work harder to arrive at consensus, we want you to focus completely on jobs and the economy and growing it.

    TODD: And he admitted his campaign promise to change Washington fell short.

    Pres. OBAMA: We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done, and I think that frustrated people.

    TODD: But Republican John Boehner , poised to become speaker of the House , said the anti- Washington message goes much deeper.

    Rep. BOEHNER: I think it's a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government and continue our fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.

    TODD: Boehner is a 20-year veteran of Congress from suburban Cincinnati known to wear his emotions on his sleeve, like last night .

    Rep. BOEHNER: I've spent my whole life chasing the American dream .

    TODD: His first challenge as speaker will be to bridge the perceived divide between the so-called establishment wing of the GOP and the newly elected tea party representatives. He is no stranger to insurgency. Here's first-term Representative Boehner , one of the gang of seven, a cadre of young Republican conservatives from 1991 who used paper bags over their heads to demonstrate their embarrassment at Washington . As for President Obama today, he showed new willingness to compromise on several issues, including extending all of the so-called Bush tax cuts .

    Pres. OBAMA: How that negotiation works itself out, I think it's too earlier to say. We're not going to play brinksmanship, but instead we're going to act responsibly.

    TODD: And the president became uncharacteristically self-reflective, with Bill Clinton 's portrait appearing over his shoulder. The president even invoked Clinton and Ronald Reagan by name and their tough midterm defeats for their political parties in 1982 and 1994 . And he was very blunt about yesterday's losses.

    Pres. OBAMA: Now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like they -- like I did last night , you know, they -- I'm sure there're easier ways to learn these lessons.

    TODD: Now, the president did a similar conference call today with supporters and donors and he said, 'Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We had a tough night .' President Friday leaves for Asia for a 10- day trip . He's got to do a few things, a G-20 meeting, the Asian economic meeting. But before he goes, he's going to tape another national television interview, " 60 Minutes " on Sunday, where we'll hear more about his reflections on this election, Brian .

    WILLIAMS: Remarkable day after a remarkable

Explainer: Fresh faces from the '10 elections

  • A look at the new class of politicians set to enter the House, Senate and governors' mansions across the country.

  • Governor-elect Rick Snyder, R-Mich.

    Image: Rick Snyder
    Carlos Osorio  /  AP

    Snyder is a former executive at computer maker Gateway who referred to himself as “one tough nerd” during the campaign. After besting Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, Snyder said the state's economy and government have been broken "for too many years."

  • Governor-elect Nikki Haley, R-S.C.

    Image: Nikki Haley
    Mary Ann Chastain  /  AP

    The daughter of immigrants from India, conservative Haley will be the first female governor of South Carolina. She played on her experience as an accountant during the race — though her opponent, Vincent Sheheen, pointed out that she failed to pay her taxes on time. She was an ally of her scandal-plagued predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford.

  • Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.

    Image: John Hickenlooper
    Ed Andrieski  /  AP

    The Denver mayor beat Republican nominee Dan Maes and immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo. He’s a former brew pub owner and restaurateur who also worked as a geologist for a Colorado petroleum company.

  • Senator-elect Rob Portman, R-Ohio

    Image: Rob Portman
    Al Behrman  /  AP

    Portman was a White House budget director and trade ambassador under George W. Bush. He coasted to victory over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in a race that Democrats gave up on months ago.

  • Senator-elect Chris Coons, D-Del.

    Image: Chris Coons
    Rob Carr  /  AP

    Coons bested Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell with the help of Delaware Democratic moderates. The New Castle County executive is an attorney and strong Obama supporter. In fact, the president called Coons to offer his congratulations after Tuesday’s win.

  • Senator-elect Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

    Image: Marco Rubio
    Alan Diaz  /  AP

    The son of Cuban-American immigrants, Rubio bested independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek in a hotly contested three-way race. Rubio practically tossed Crist out of the GOP, winning the party’s Senate nomination and forcing the governor to launch a no-party bid for the seat.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.

    Image: Ron Johnson
    Morry Gash  /  AP

    This Republican businessman topped three-term Democrat Russ Feingold. On the trail, he touted his experience running a plastics company for more than three decades. Johnson was aided by Tea Party support and his fervent stance against the president’s health care overhaul.

  • Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz.

    Image: Ben Quayle
    Matt York  /  AP

    The son of former Vice President Dan Quayle bested Democrat Jon Hulburd in Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District. An issue during the campaign was Quayle’s involvement with a sex-steeped website; something the Republican later said he regretted.

  • Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

    Chet Brokaw  /  AP

    This South Dakota Republican stopped her Democratic rival from claiming her fourth full congressional term. Ads from her opponent called attention to Noem’s 28 traffic violations in the past decade. Noem called one of the more controversial television spots "over the top" and said “it has nothing to do with issues."

Map: Election results 2010

Photos: Election night

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  1. Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich celebrates a victory during the Ohio Republican Party celebration in Columbus, Ohio. (Tony Dejak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, celebrates early election returns in Anchorage on Nov. 2. With Murkowski are from left, sons Matt and Nick Murkowski and longtime friend Hope Neslon. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown celebrates his election win during a rally with his wife, Anne Gust, in Oakland, Calif. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman concedes to Democrat Jerry Brown during a campaign party in Universal City, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Supporters of California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman react after conceding the Governor's race to Democrat Jerry Brown during a campaign party in Universal City, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Terri Sewell celebrate her victory with her cousin Kindall Sewell- Murphy as the first African American woman to be elected to for the 7th Congressional District seat in Alabama, with family and friends in Selma, Ala. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle with her husband, Ted Angle, concedes defeat to supporters at the Nevada Republican Party's election results party at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino after she lost to incumbent U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of Nevada Republican Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle react after news projected Democratic Party candidate Harry Reid as the winner of the race for the Nevada senate seat at the Nevada Republican Party's Election Night event in Las Vegas, NV. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks during the Nevada State Democratic election night party after defeating Sharron Angle to win re-election, in Las Vegas. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Angela Webb of Alabama, left, and Leah Stith of Virgina react after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was announced as the winner over Republican challenger Sharron Angle at the Nevada State Democratic Party's election results party at the Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas. In one of the nation's most closely watched races, Reid retained his seat for a fifth term against Angle, a Tea Party favorite. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. House Republican leader John Boehner breaks into tears during his speech as he addresses supporters at a Republican election night results watch rally in Washington, D.C. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Supporters of Republican Senator Marco Rubio celebrate at his victory party in Coral Gables, Florida. (Gary I Rothstein / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. U.S. Senator John McCain is reflected on a teleprompter as he celebrates his victory with his daughter Meghan after defeating Democratic candidate Rodney Glassman in Phoenix, Arizona. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Tammy Tideman of Mesa, Arizona and Carla Schwarte of Phoenix, Arizona hold "Fire Pelosi" sighn as Sen. John McCain speaks to the crowd during an Arizona Republican Party election night event in Phoenix, Arizona. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Democrat Bill White walks off the stage after addressing his election night party at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston. The former Houston mayor conceded defeat to incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry in the race. (Smiley N. Pool / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama makes an election night phone call to Rep. John Boehner from his Treaty Room office in the White House residence. (Pete Souza / The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tea Party Patriots at an election night party celebrate an announcement that Republicans have gained the majority in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 2. (Ann Heisenfelt / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Terri Scofield of Medford checks her email for updates from the Board of Elections as she awaits elections results at the Suffolk County Democratic Committee Headquarters in Islandia, N.Y. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY celebrates her re-election at a rally in New York. Disenchanted U.S. voters swept Democrats from power in the House of Representatives and increased the ranks of Senate Republicans on Tuesday in an election rout that dealt a sharp rebuke to President Barack Obama. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Harris Blackwood, communications director for Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal, holds a broom, claiming a sweep for Republicans at the Georgia Republican Party's election night watch party in Atlanta. (Brant Sanderlin / Atlanta Journal & Constitution / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, a favorite among the conservative Tea Party movement, appears at an election night rally in Dover, Delaware. Democrat Christopher Coons won the U.S. Senate race in Delaware on Tuesday, keeping for Democrats a seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Michele Bachmann and other Republicans gather at the Sheraton Bloomington to await election results. (Tom Wallace / Star-Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul acknowledges supporters with wife Kelley at his election night rally in Bowling Green, Kentucky, November 2. (John Sommers II / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., arrives to celebrate his re-election with supporters at the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club in New York. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Supporters Rachel Smith, right, and Genevieve Fugere watch the returns of Democratic Mike McIntyre D-N.C., 7th House District at his election night headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Lumberton, North Carolina. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Election worker Janet Smith processes ballots at the King County Elections headquarter in Seattle, Washington. Among the races and ballot initiatives here is the US Senate race between incumbent Senator Patty Murray and challenger Republican and former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, which is so close it could take several days to determine the winner. (Stephen Brashear / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, right, watches election results come in after the polls closed from a hotel restaurant with her husband Michael, left, son Nalin, 9, rear center, and daughter Rena, 12, right, in Columbia, South Carolina. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Florida Governor Charlie Crist thanks supporters after conceding his defeat in his campaign for U.S. Senate to Republican Marco Rubio during a campaign party in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Brian Blanco / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Diana Reiner of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, left, and Keli Carender of Seattle, Washington, gather with a group known as the Tea Party Patriots for a 'Reclaiming the Capitol' rally at the US Capitol. The group planted a "special edition" of the historic Gadsden flag, the US flag, and the Tea Party Patriots banner into the ground in Washington, DC. Midterm elections are being held across the United States with many highly contested races that could threaten the political futures of numerous incumbents as well as change the balance in the Senate and House of Representatives. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Jamey Stehn leaves the Hope Social Hall after casting his ballot in Hope, Alaska. Stehn and the other 200 or so residents of Hope use the one-room log building built in 1902 as their polling place and activity hall. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Volunteer Justino Mora, left, joins members of the mariachi band "Los Munecos," and other Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles volunteers to urge immigrant voters to vote early in the California election in Los Angeles, California. The sign reads in Spanish: "Everybody to Vote." (Damian Dovarganes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Congressman Joe Sestak speaks with a reporter after casting his ballot in Gradyville, Pennsylvania. Sestak faces Republican candidate Pat Toomey in the midterm election. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Sloan Atkins, 6, left, helps her mother, Coleen Atkins, as her sister Reese Atkins, 4, helps their father Anthony Oliva, right, fill out their ballots in West Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, address the media outside a polling station in Phoenix as Apollo, a dog owned by McCain's son, Jimmy, licks the camera. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A member of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers fills out his ballot at a polling station inside the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Spellman Room in Ossining, New York. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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