Democrats are assured of retaining their U.S. Senate majority after Republicans lost seats in Indiana, Massachusetts and Maine, and Democrats held on to crucial seats in Virginia and Missouri.
In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine beat Republican George Allen, a Republican, in a race that has mirrored the presidential campaign in polls. Allen lost the Senate seat six years ago to Democrat Jim Webb, who is retiring after one term.
Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly, a congressman, defeated Republican Richard Mourdock, who in May ousted six-term incumbent Richard Lugar in a primary vote. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
“We have defied the odds, we have won the night, and we will have a Democratic majority,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who heads Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts, told supporters yesterday.
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Democrats control the Senate 53-47. Republicans needed to pick up four net seats to gain a majority. The electoral landscape was supposed to favor Republicans, who were defending 10 seats compared with 23 Democratic seats on the ballot this year.
For the second Senate election in a row, “Republicans have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” by nominating candidates who did “not appeal to a more moderate electorate,” said Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who specializes in American politics.
He cited losing candidates U.S. Representative Todd Akin in Missouri and Mourdock in Indiana in particular. In the 2010 election, unsuccessful Republican nominees in Delaware and Nevada extinguished the party’s chance of capturing a majority.
Scott Brown, who won the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy’s seat in a 2010 special election, told supporters after his defeat by Warren, “May she bring that Senate office great credit, just as I set out to do nearly three years ago.”
In Maine, independent Angus King beat a Republican and a Democrat for the seat being vacated by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, whose decision in February to retire was a blow to Republicans’ hopes of gaining Senate control. King is expected to caucus with Democrats.
After the results were reported, King sent a message on Twitter saying it was his goal “to be a bridge.” He added, “The message of this election is that we are close and the people want us to get closer.”
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat once considered the party’s most vulnerable in the chamber, held off a challenge by Akin. He lost his lead in the polls after he said in an Aug. 19 television interview that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
The only seat that Republicans so far have picked up is in Nebraska, where Deb Fischer, a Tea Party-backed Republican, defeated Democrat Bob Kerrey to replace retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.
Fischer portrayed Kerrey, who retired from the Senate in 2001, as an outsider, featuring his image in an ad superimposed on a picture of the skyline of New York, where he was president of the New School for a decade. Kerrey won the endorsements of two former Republican U.S. senators, Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel and Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Simpson was co-chairman of Obama’s bipartisan commission on deficit reduction.
Democratic candidates in Connecticut, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania held on to seats the party now controls that were considered competitive.
Democrat Chris Murphy defeated Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE:US), for the Senate seat in Connecticut now held by retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Murphy is a three-term U.S. congressman.
McMahon, who spent almost $100 million of her own money on her Senate races in 2010 and this year, told supporters to make sure their representatives “are doing what we need because they work for us.”
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown defeated Republican Josh Mandel in Ohio, a presidential battleground state.
In Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida won a third term, defeating Republican Representative Connie Mack IV. Nelson, the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Florida, was first elected to the seat in 2000 after Connie Mack III retired.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey defeated Republican Tom Smith in Pennsylvania.
Series of Setbacks
A series of setbacks diminished Republicans’ chances for taking control of the chamber, including Snowe’s decision to retire in a Democratic-leaning state and Indiana Senator Lugar’s primary loss. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington rated 10 races as “toss-up,” where neither party appeared to have a clear advantage.
Less than two weeks before election day, Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer, imperiled his attempt to replace Lugar by referring to pregnancies resulting from rape as “something God intended to happen.”
The next Congress will face divisive tax-and-spending issues after years of unsuccessfully trying to reduce the budget deficit. Lawmakers also may have to address the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts that will start in January if Congress doesn’t act in a lame-duck session beginning this month.
Continued gridlock would be probable next year in a Congress with an unchanged balance of power, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the Cook Political Report. Both parties will “find things in this election to encourage them to continue to behave as they’ve behaved the last two to four years,” she said.
The top Senate races were flooded with advertising funded by outside partisan groups, including Virginia with $35 million, Wisconsin with $31 million, Ohio with $27 million and Indiana with $22 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
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