Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate by holding on to crucial seats in Virginia, Montana and Missouri, capturing the Indiana seat held by a retiring Republican and ousting a Republican in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren beat incumbent Scott Brown.
Failed Republican attempts to defeat Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Sherrod Brown of Ohio helped tipped the scale to Democrats. If Maine independent Angus King caucuses with Democrats, as expected, the party would expand its current 53-47 advantage by at least one seat.
The Associated Press called the Montana race for Tester this morning, leaving North Dakota’s contest to replace Democrat Kent Conrad as the only undetermined Senate race. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp leads Republican Rick Berg by about 3,000 votes out of almost 320,000 cast, with all precincts reporting, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The electoral landscape this year was supposed to favor Republicans, who were defending only 10 seats, compared with 23 Democratic seats on the ballot.
“We have defied the odds, we have won the night, and we will have a Democratic majority,” said Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington who led the party’s re-election campaign. “There was no one who gave us a chance of keeping the majority. We recruited the best qualified candidates ever and we nominated more women candidates.”
Last night’s election will lead to a record number of women serving in the U.S. Senate. There are currently 17. While two are retiring, at least four more have won -- Democrats Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Warren in Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, and Republican Deb Fischer in Nebraska.
Brown, the Republican who won the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy’s seat in a 2010 special election, told supporters after his defeat, “May she bring that Senate office great credit, just as I set out to do nearly three years ago.”
Warren will join a Senate that includes Republican members who made clear last year that they would block any attempt by President Barack Obama to appoint her to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped establish under the Dodd-Frank law that set new rules for Wall Street. Obama named Richard Cordray instead.
A Harvard University professor, Warren will be the first woman her state has sent to the U.S. Senate, and its fifth to Congress. Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the only states in New England to have never elected a woman to the Senate or the governorship.
McCaskill of Missouri, once considered the party’s most vulnerable member in the chamber, held off a challenge by her Republican challenger, U.S. Representative Todd Akin. He lost his lead in the polls after he said in an Aug. 19 television interview that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
His comment was among a series of setbacks that diminished Republicans’ bid for control. They included Maine Republican Olympia Snowe’s February decision to retire in a Democratic-leaning state, and Indiana Senator Richard Lugar’s primary loss to an anti-tax Tea Party favorite, state treasurer Richard Mourdock in May.
Less than two weeks before Election Day, Mourdock, who had come under attack for scorning bipartisanship, further imperiled his attempt to succeed Lugar by referring to pregnancies resulting from rape as “something God intended to happen.” He lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly, a member of the U.S. House.
Andrew Horning, a Libertarian candidate who hasn’t held elective office, may have also hurt Mourdock. He took about 6 percent of the vote that might have gone for the Republican.
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 Akin and Mourdock in particular. In the 2010 election, unsuccessful Republican nominees in Delaware and Nevada also extinguished the party’s chance of capturing a majority by making verbal gaffes.
“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican who led his party’s campaign effort. “The reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”
The only seat Republicans so far swung to their side is in Nebraska, where Fischer, a Tea Party-backed Republican, defeated Democratic former Senator Bob Kerrey to replace retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. Seats held by retiring Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona will remain in the Republican column, with lawyer Ted Cruz winning in Texas over former State Representative Paul Sadler and U.S. Representative Jeff Flake defeating former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in Arizona.
Republicans successfully defending their seats included Bob Corker of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada.
In an election defined by voter anxiety over the economy, the results mean that Senate Democrats, led by Nevada’s Harry Reid, will continue to champion their prescription for creating jobs and repairing the economy. They will seek to extend tax cuts for the middle class, end tax breaks for top earners and direct more federal dollars to transportation and education programs.
Even so, Democrats won’t have a 60-vote “super-majority” needed to advance most legislation to a final vote, meaning they will need Republicans to get anything done.
“It’s time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions,” Reid said in a statement. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions.”
The election took place amid low approval ratings for Congress.
Twenty-one percent of Americans approved of Congress in October, among the lowest ratings in the final month before a presidential election, according to a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 15-16. Even so, the outcome of yesterday’s vote means that the balance of power will be the same in the next Congress.
Lawmakers will face divisive tax and spending issues after years of unsuccessfully trying to reduce the budget deficit. They 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 starting 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 nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. 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.
In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine beat Republican George Allen in a race between two former governors that had mirrored the presidential campaign in polls. Allen, who was the incumbent senator six years ago, lost his seat in the 2006 election to Democrat Jim Webb, who is retiring after one term.
In Maine, King beat a Republican and a Democrat for the seat being vacated by Snowe. He 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.”
In Wisconsin, Baldwin defeated former Governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican, to become the state’s first female senator.
Democratic candidates in Connecticut, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania kept seats the party now controls.
Democrat Chris Murphy defeated Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., for the Senate seat in Connecticut 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 Senate races in 2010 and this year, told supporters to make sure their representatives “are doing what we need, because they work for us.”
Senator Sherrod Brown defeated Republican challenger Josh Mandel in Ohio, a presidential battleground state.
In Florida, Nelson 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.
The top Senate races were flooded with advertising funded by outside partisan groups, including Virginia with $35 million, Wisconsin with $30.7 million, Ohio with $27 million and Indiana with $21.5 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.