The Republican party surged throughout the nation Tuesday, gaining control of the U.S. Senate and maintaining its hold of the House, and GOP contenders in Georgia followed suit.

The Georgia Democratic party was hit particularly hard by the Republican momentum, suffering key losses in the Senate, governor's race, Congress and the state assembly.

In fact, in a somber Young Democrats meeting Wednesday, members analyzed their party's dismal election results.

"The good news: The Democrats picked up four governor seats," said Billy Joyner, director of communications. "And that's all the good news."

Perhaps the most surprising of the results was the upset victory of Republican state Sen. Sonny Perdue over incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes in the governor's race.

"This is a Republican breakthrough," said political science professor Trey Hood. "We've moved into an era of highly competitive two-party politics. We're the last state in the South to not have elected at least one Republican governor since Reconstruction."

Indeed, Barnes had both history and fundraising behind him, as the Democratic party had held the Georgia governor's seat for 130 years and had raised $16.5 million more than Perdue. So, Hood said few expected Barnes to lose this race.

"I was shocked really. I think it was more of an anti-Barnes referendum than something Sonny Perdue did. That's the only thing I can think of," Hood said.

The Republican party took over the U.S. Senate by picking up a net total of at least two seats. Combined with their continued hold of the House, the Republican party now has control of the committee chairmanships and the legislative agenda in Congress.

Georgia played a key role in the Senate race, as Republican U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss unseated incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland by more than 100,000 votes.

The top Democratic leadership in the state legislature also was defeated.

Rep. Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, who was Georgia's speaker of the House since 1973, was swept away as well by Republican Bill Heath.

And state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker Sr. lost his Augusta district to Republican Randy Hall by less than 300 votes.

And Georgia Democrats also lost congressional districts -- particularly the local 12th District -- that were intentionally drawn for a Democratic victory by state legislators after the 2000 Census.

In the 12th District, which runs from Athens to Augusta to Savannah, businessman Charles "Champ" Walker Jr. lost to conservative Republican Max Burns, a Georgia Southern University professor.

"You can try to draw district lines that are heavily Republican or Democrat but you can't guarantee a victory," Hood said.

Even in Athens, where a Democrat has held the state Senate seat for more than four decades, first-term Democratic Sen. Doug Haines lost his re-election bid to Republican Brian Kemp by less than 500 votes.

Across the state and the nation, the Democratic party is now on the defensive as strategists are scratching their heads attempting to explain the loss.

Democratic National Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe told CNN Wednesday the Republican victories were "tactical rather than ideological," and said his party was still in "good shape."

At the University level, dejected members of the Young Democrats recapped the election, brainstormed issues and debated the reason for their party's 2002 downfall.

"We became too comfortable," said member Matt Edwards. "After 130 years with the governor's seat, we thought nobody was going to beat us."

State Young Democrats president Stacey Godfrey offered a bit of hope as she predicted the loss will pull Democrats together.

"We saw (Tuesday) that the old guard won't last forever," said Godfrey, a law student. "Everybody in this room needs to start talking about the issues now."

-- Contributing: CNN, Georgia Secretary of State Web site (www.sos.state.ga.us)

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