SENATE: Democrats Retain Control Amid GOP Gains
With Democratic leader Harry Reid's victory in Nevada, Republican hopes for taking over the Senate faded — even as Reid's leadership qualities were sure to be put to the test in a more narrowly divided Senate.
Republicans picked up six seats — in Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And they held on in several other races with strong showings from a few candidates with strong ties to the Tea Party.
Yet the Tea Party movement, it now appears, may have hurt as much as it helped the Republicans this year. In two pivotal primary races, in Nevada and Delaware, Tea Party favorites edged out more traditional GOP candidates, who may have bested their Democratic counterparts on Election Day and sealed a Republican takeover of both chambers of Congress.
The die was cast for Democrats after Reid retained his seat, amid a tough challenge from Republican Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. Angle had edged out Sue Lowden, head of the Nevada Republican Party, in the state's primary race.
Reid spoke to supporters in the early morning hours Wednesday, saying, "I'm not finished fighting. In fact, I'm more determined than ever. ... My story and this night prove that difficult isn't synonymous with impossible."
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, pointed out that Reid had become "the No. 1 target for national Republicans this election cycle." Menendez said that Reid demonstrated "he can never be counted out." But Reid will soon be forced to count more than ever, as the number of Democrats he manages has dwindled.
As in the Nevada GOP primary, likewise in Delaware: Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell beat incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Castle in a difficult primary contest, but she fell easily to Democrat Chris Coons on Election Day. Castle had been favored to win the seat once held by Vice President Biden.
In make-or-break moments, Democrats managed to hold on to Robert Byrd's seat in West Virginia, and Sen. Barbara Boxer kept her job in California. Another pivotal race, in Washington, is running down to the wire, and the campaigns closed their doors early Wednesday and went home with no result expected soon.
Illinois, of all places, offered a psychological boost for Republicans and one of their most prized pickups. Rep. Mark Kirk won the Illinois seat once occupied by President Obama. Kirk defeated Democrat (and friend of Obama) Alexi Giannoulias.
In Wisconsin, three-term Democrat Russ Feingold lost to Republican Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh plastics executive. Feingold, perhaps best known nationally for his advocacy of campaign finance reform, also voted for the health care bill and did not run away from that vote, unlike many struggling Democrats this year.
And in Pennsylvania, former Club for Growth president and onetime GOP House member Pat Toomey turned the Senate seat Republican after incumbent Democrat Arlen Specter lost in the primary. Toomey defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, a Navy veteran who literally raced between campaign stops.
The night's results have also advanced candidates with close ties to the Tea Party.
In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, defeated Democrat Jack Conway, after a long-running war of words. Paul, the son of veteran Texas Rep. Ron Paul, won the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning. It was a contentious race. At one point a former volunteer for Paul was accused of assault for stomping on the head of a left-leaning activist. And Conway supporters ran ads highlighting a college prank by Paul involving the "Aqua Buddha" and questioning his religious bona fides.
Conservative Republican and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee won the Senate seat in Utah, long held by GOP veteran Bob Bennett.
South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint, who championed a bold slate of Tea Party candidates, won an easy victory. So did Indiana Republican and former Sen. Dan Coats, who prevailed over Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, in the first pickup of the night for Republicans. Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, one of the most vulnerable incumbents, lost to Republican Rep. John Boozman — another GOP pickup. And in North Dakota, Republican Gov. John Hoeven coasted to victory with a big lead over Democrat Tracy Potter in a race for the seat occupied by retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Marco Rubio won the seat for the GOP, as expected, over Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist, the incumbent governor and a former Republican.
And in New Hampshire, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, held on to the seat vacated by the retiring Judd Gregg.
In Ohio, former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, who has been characterized as a rising GOP leader, defeated the state's Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.
Holding the Line
Elsewhere, Democrats managed to hold the line. In Connecticut, Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal defeated World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon.
Incumbent California Democrat Barbara Boxer prevailed in her race against former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and John McCain presidential adviser Carly Fiorina. And Democrats kept a key seat in West Virginia when popular Gov. Joe Manchin defeated Republican businessman John Raese. Manchin won in part by running away from President Obama. In New York, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand kept their seats without much of a fight.
Easily coasting to re-election were incumbent Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, as well as Republicans Richard Shelby of Alabama, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Veteran Republicans John McCain in Arizona, Charles Grassley in Iowa, Mike Crapo in Idaho and David Vitter in Louisiana handily won their races as well.
And South Dakota Republican John Thune won in a race where he faced no opponent on the ballot.
In Kansas, where Republican Sam Brownback is retiring to run for governor, GOP candidate Rep. Jerry Moran won a campaign with little suspense. There was a little more friction in Missouri, but Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican, defeated Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Blunt's victory keeps the seat for the GOP, upon the retirement of Christopher "Kit" Bond.
Three races still to watch:
Colorado — Incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is fighting for his political life against Tea Party Republican and former District Attorney Ken Buck. Buck wants to repeal the Obama administration's signature health care law and opposes abortion rights.
Washington — Three-term incumbent Patty Murray is clinging to her seat in a contest against Republican Dino Rossi.
Alaska — Republican Joe Miller, a Tea Party favorite, is trying to hold on to an early lead in the polls over Democrat Scott McAdams. Incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who lost in the GOP primary, has launched a bold write-in bid to retain her seat and maintain her family's political dynasty in the state. If Murkowski is successful, she will be the first write-in candidate to win since the late Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954.
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