Republicans won control of the Senate Tuesday evening as GOP candidates across the country swept to victory in crucial midterm elections, reflecting widespread unease about the nation’s direction and the electorate’s disenchantment with President Obama.
The GOP took control of Democratic held seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, giving the party seven additional senators. It had needed six to control the chamber for the first time since 2007.
The rapid-fire victories represented a repudiation of the president, who rode into office on a mantle of change in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 but whose second term has bogged down in a problems ranging from crises abroad to the arrival of Ebola in the United States. Throughout the hard-fought the campaign, Obama was a target of Republican candidates and in the end was reduced to campaigning only in secure Democratic bastions.
“We are heading to Washington…and we are going to make ‘em squeal!” a jubilant state Sen. Joni Ernst told cheering supporters in Iowa, where she defeated Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the seventh GOP pickup of a Democratic-held seat.
As polls closed in Arkansas, where Rep. Tom Cotton (R) captured incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor’s Senate seat, Sen. John Boozman said the results were more a “referendum” on the president than a statement about the Republican Party and its agenda.
“Our party did better with its operation and it had better candidates, but this election was about what was occurring in the country and the world,’’ Boozman, the state’s incumbent Republican senator said in an interview. “People are concerned about the Middle East, they’re worried about what’s happening at home. That created this atmosphere for Republicans.”
The Republican-controlled Senate, which will take office in January, is expected to complicate Obama’s agenda in ways large and small. Not only will his nominees face tougher Senate scrutiny, his push for a sweeping international climate change agreement will face resistence. Republicans are expected to demand approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and to push to dismantle key pieces of the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate is expected to be led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), a savvy old-guard Republican who on Tuesday easily brushed off a high-profile Democrat heavily backed by national party leaders. “I work hard to bring your concerns to D.C., and I will not let up,’’ a triumphant McConnell told cheering supporters in Louisville. He offered praise for his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, saying she “ran a spirited campaign, she earned a lot of votes and she earned my respect.’
Democrats fought back by defending a seat the GOP had hoped to claim, as incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen rebuffed a strong challenge from Republican Scott Brown. But other GOP candidates over-performed their already strong performances that the final pre-election polls had captured.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who had appeared on the verge of losing to indepdent Greg Orman, pulled out a narrow victory. And Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner — the state’s most popular politician for a decade — was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Republican strategist and challenger Ed Gillespie.
The final sweep of the GOP victory was still not known Tuesday evening. Another state where the party mounted a strong Senate challenge, Louisiana, is going to a runoff election. Another closely fought Democratic held seat, Alaska, may still be counting votes for days.
In West Virginia, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito defeated Natalie Tennant, overcoming support from national Democrats such as populist firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) who had campaigned for the underdog Democrat.
In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, while in South Dakota, former Republican governor Mike Rounds defeated a Democratic challenger along with independent former GOP senator Larry Pressler.
As expected, Rep. Steve Daines (R) easily picked off another Senate seat for the GOP after the Democratic field imploded.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner — the state’s most popular politician for a decade — was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Republican strategist and challenger Ed Gillespie.
McConnell and Capito, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), are considered members of the Republican Party’s moderate wing, which could presage a good night for moderates who have been clashing periodically with their party’s conservative wing in recent years.
Although recent polls had forecast that McConnell would survive a tough challenge from Grimes, his victory was no sure thing earlier in the year.
Before the returns started coming in for Senate, House and gubernatorial races, preliminary network exit polls revealed an electorate that was largely frustrated by the political stalemate in Washington after two years in which little of legislative significance was accomplished.
Nearly 6 in 10 voters said they were “dissatisfied” or “angry” at the Obama administration, with a similar proportion feeling the same about Republican leaders in Congress.
Calling into a Connecticut radio program Tuesday, Obama urged the public to cast their votes and emphasized they “can’t afford to be cynical. Now is the precise time ordinary folks casting a ballot can break the gridlock.’’
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