Democrats optimistic about keeping Senate; House likely to stay GOP-led

WASHINGTON – Democrats appeared to retain control of the Senate on Tuesday while Republicans will continue to rule the House of Representatives, after congressional elections that featured several high-profile races.
Democrats swept some of the most high-profile Senate contests, including the face-off between incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren.
In Indiana, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly defeated Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.
Mourdock, a tea party favorite who defeated Lugar in the primary, slipped dramatically in the polls after he said that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”
Similarly, in Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, long thought to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents, defeated Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who created a controversy this summer when he said that women rarely got pregnant in case of “legitimate rape.” A lot of mainline Republican support deserted him as a result.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin bested popular Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson, becoming the first openly gay member of the Senate. She won the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
Democrats also retained Virginia’s Senate seat, as Tim Kaine defeated Republican George Allen, a former senator, in the battle of former Virginia governors. Kaine will fill the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
In the House, television networks projected that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would continue to wield the speaker’s gavel with a majority that might grow once the evening ends. The House results represent a bitter setback for Democrats, who’d hoped to at least make a dent in the Republican majority.
On the Senate side, Republican dreams of picking up four seats and becoming the majority party in that chamber seemed dashed as incumbent Democrats racked up early wins. Democrats held on to six seats early as Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Manchin of West Virginia – a coal country lawmaker who often broke with President Barack Obama on environmental and regulatory issues – Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Thomas Carper of Delaware and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland won easily.
The sixth was a marquee match in New England, where Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy defeated Republican challenger Linda McMahon, a former wrestling executive who spent more than $42 million of her own money on her campaign, for the open Connecticut Senate seat created by the retirement of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucused with the Democrats.
Two New England independents, incumbent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, won their contests. Sanders, a fierce liberal, caucuses and often votes with the Democrats. King, who defeated Democratic challenger Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers for the seat vacated by moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, hasn’t indicated which party he’ll caucus with.
Among Republicans, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee handily won re-election. In Texas, tea party-powered Republican candidate Ted Cruz won the Senate seat opened by the retirement of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The mysteries of which party would control the Senate and whether Democrats would weaken the Republican majority in the House of Representatives became clearer as congressional results from across the country began rolling in.
While much of the public and news-media attention focused on the battle between President Barack Obama and Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney, the undercard races for the Senate and House carried their own significance, and – in some contests – their own amount of drama.
Republicans were hoping to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats, who, along with two independents who vote mainly Democratic, control 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
In the Massachusetts race, Brown was running for his first full term against Warren, a Harvard University professor who was Obama’s choice to head the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before Senate Republicans blocked her nomination. Scott won a special election in 2010 to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.
The Brown-Warren race was one of the most-watched Senate races – and one of the most expensive. Brown and Warren agreed to refuse outside money from so-called super PACs – political action committees – or other third-party groups. Still, the two combined spent $68 million.
While Democrats and Republicans jousted for control of the Senate, there was no doubt that the latter would continue to wield the speaker’s gavel in the House.
Republicans hold a 240-190 majority in the House; Democrats would need a net gain of 25 seats to recapture control. That was a tall order, largely because redistricting in several Republican-controlled states helped secure incumbents and created friendlier terrain for Republican challengers.
While control of the House wasn’t expected to change, the chamber won’t be the same after Tuesday. The combination of open seats and incumbent losses will bring in another huge freshman class, perhaps larger than the 93-member contingent in 2010. The House also might be more politically polarized next year with the exodus of some of its dwindling collection of moderates in both parties.
Some of the more high-profile House races included nine-term California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren’s bid to beat back a serious challenge by Democrat Ami Bera for a Sacramento-area seat, a contest in which more than $6 million worth of outside money flowed in.
In Florida, Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite and one of two black Republicans in the House, was fighting for a second term against Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.
In Utah, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love was looking to knock off incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, a member of the House’s conservative Blue Dog Democratic caucus, and make history: If she wins, she’ll be the first black Republican female Mormon in the House.
Among the early House results, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, a 32-year veteran who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, cruised to re-election victories. In Kentucky, Republican challenger Andy Barr unseated incumbent Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler, a member of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog coalition.
The Blue Dogs were once a powerful 54-member moderate force in the House. But their membership was halved after defeats to Republican candidates in the 2010 elections. Blue Dog membership is expected to be down to the teens after Tuesday’s results.
By William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers

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