Republicans widen control in Senate, governor’s races

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 4, 2014.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 4, 2014. AP

Republicans further cemented control of the U.S. Senate Wednesday, mobilizing voter discontent with President Barack Obama across the country and heightening domestic and foreign policy clashes over the final two years of his presidency.

Republicans, who picked up enough seats Tuesday to control both houses of Congress for the first time in eight years, were poised to widen their gains in the Senate with a win in Alaska, along with securing likely holds on governors’ mansions in the deep blue states of Maryland and Massachusetts.

In Alaska, U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan had a sizable lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich early Wednesday, but with some votes yet to be counted, Sullivan hadn’t declared victory. It will be the first time since Obama took office that he will not have a friendly Senate and the first time he’s faced an entire Congress under opposition control.

Even in races they had expected to easily win, Democrats were pinched and on Wednesday they were holding the Virginia Senate seat, in an unexpectedly close race between incumbent Sen. Mark Warner and Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman.

Obama, who memorably described Democrats’ losses in the 2010 midterm as a “shellacking,” will address last night’s losses at a 2:50 p.m. EST press conference today from the East Room at the White House. Obama, who watched the returns at the White House residence, has invited lawmakers from both parties to meet at the White House on Friday -- his last two years considerably constrained by the wave of Republican victories.

Leading the Senate will be Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who successfully crushed Democrats’ expensive bid to oust him. Obama tried to reach McConnell Tuesday night, but left a message when they didn’t connect, a senior administration official said. In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio could lead the biggest Republican bloc in 65 years.

Obama also placed calls to winners and losers of House, Senate and governors’ races in both parties, as well as members of leadership.

The two Republican leaders vowed Tuesday to push the Republican agenda quickly and aggressively when the new Congress convenes in January.

"Tonight, Kentuckians said we can do better as a nation," McConnell said in his victory speech in Louisville. "Tonight, they said we can have real change in Washington. Real change, and that’s just what I intend to deliver."

Boehner, who has watched Republican bill after bill die for years in the Democratic-led Senate, pledged votes on "commonsense jobs and energy bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support but were never even brought to a vote by the outgoing Senate majority."

House and Senate Democrats tried to be conciliatory: “There is important work to do to jump start the middle class and we hope we can do it with bipartisanship and fairness," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. said early Wednesday, acknowledging a “difficult night for Democrats.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. declared “the message from voters is clear: they want us to work together.”

Maybe. Voters from coast to coast signaled Tuesday they’re eager for Republicans to act. The party won Democratic-held Senate seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, assuring them of majority control of the Senate for the first time since January 2007. Among the Democratic losses were incumbent senators in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina. And another possible Republican pickup looms with a December runoff election in Louisiana.

Democratic efforts to offset the Republican momentum with gains of their own failed.

In Kentucky, McConnell easily beat Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Democrats had hopes for a Republican seat in Georgia, but Michelle Nunn fell to Republican businessman David Perdue. And in Kansas, Democrats appeared to be counting on Greg Orman, running as an independent against Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican. Vice President Joe Biden earlier Tuesday called Orman "an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas." It wasn’t enough. Roberts held the seat.

Democrats did hold New Hampshire, where Sen. Jeanne Shaheen turned back a strong challenge from former Sen. Scott Brown. And they stopped the Republicans, at least for now, in Louisiana. Since no one got a majority, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will face Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Democrats were defending 21 Senate seats to the Republicans’ 15. Seven of the Democratic seats were in states that went for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 against Obama. Five elected Republicans, all in states where Obama’s approval rating sank and Democrats tried to put distance between themselves and the president.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito will become West Virginia’s first female senator. Other winners included Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Rep. Steve Daines in Montana, House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina and former Gov. Mike Rounds in South Dakota.

"This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," Obama said Tuesday on WNPR in Connecticut.

In House races, two Democratic incumbents fell: Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida. Rahall, first elected to the House in 1976, was the victim of a GOP surge in a state that’s trended increasingly Republican.

Florida Democrats did have one bright spot, with Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, ousting Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in a north Florida district.

In California, Carl DeMaio, one of two openly gay Republicans running competitive races for the House, had a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.

And in Utah, Mia Love became the first Haitian-American and black Republican woman to win a congressional seat for the Republicans.

In gubernatorial races, Republicans captured Democratic-held governor’s mansions in Arkansas, where Rep. Asa Hutchinson beat out Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Mike Ross and in Maryland, where Republican businessman Larry Hogan upset Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. They also won in Obama’s homestate of Illinois, where he had campaigned for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who lost to Republican Bruce Rauner.

Obama also campaigned for Wisconsin Democrat Mary Burke, who came up short against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who won a second term in office.

A look at key Senate races:

– Arkansas. Cotton defeated Sen. Mark Pryor, the Democrat. Pyor lost after being hammered for supporting Obama on nine of 10 key votes last year, a liability in a state where the president’s approval ratings have hovered around 30 percent in recent polls.

– Colorado. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, thought he could tar Republican Rep. Cory Gardner as a doctrinaire conservative with little regard for women’s rights. That strategy backfired as the affable Gardner retained a sizable following among women.

– Georgia. Perdue won the Republican nomination campaigning as an outsider who would shake up Washington, but Nunn gained by questioning his business record. Democrats had at least hoped no one would get a majority and the race would go to a Jan. 6 runoff. Instead, Perdue got enough to win outright. He’ll succeed Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Iowa. Republican Joni Ernst, a state senator, vaulted to prominence earlier this year with her down-to-earth pitch as a mother, soldier and independent. She defeated Democrat Bruce Braley to take the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat.

– Kansas. The streak continues: No Republican has lost a Kansas Senate campaign since 1932, and though Roberts was seen as out of touch with the state, he was able to overcome the Orman challenge. Roberts worked to define Orman as untested and a closet Democrat, and conservatives who had challenged Roberts rallied at the end to support him.

– Kentucky. McConnell easily topped Democrat Grimes. Democrats once had big hopes of gaining a seat here, but McConnell slammed Grimes as a supporter of Obama policies, which are not popular in the state. Grimes tried hard to separate herself, but among her stumbles was her refusal last month to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012.

– Louisiana. Landrieu faces a Dec. 6 runoff. Two conservatives, Cassidy and Rob Maness, were splitting the anti-Landrieu vote in a state where Obama is deeply unpopular. Cassidy is the likely favorite in the runoff.

– Montana. Republican Daines won the Senate seat easily. Any prospect of a competitive race evaporated when incumbent Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat, dropped out this summer after facing plagiarism allegations. Daines wound up with an easy path to victory.

– New Hampshire. Brown, easily defeated in his 2012 re-election bid in Massachusetts, moved to his vacation home in New Hampshire. He was called a carpetbagger, a label he couldn’t escape.

North Carolina. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan lost to Tillis. The race was nasty and costly – the campaigns aired more than 100,000 ads, according to The Charlotte Observer.

– South Dakota. Rounds won a three-way battle to succeed Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat. Independent Larry Pressler, a Republican South Dakota senator from 1979 to 1997, made some inroads but faded

– West Virginia. Capito won election as the state’s first woman senator, defeating Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in a race that was never considered close. Capito struck a bid for cooperation in an interview, saying she was friends with West Virginia’s Democratic senator Joe Manchin and predicted the two would “be able to work well together.

“And maybe that will be a model for the rest of the Senate,” she said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I certainly hope so.”

Capito warned that for Republicans “the biggest mistake that we could make as Republicans is maybe try to take too big a bite. I think that what people want to see immediately and what I want to see immediately are some successes.”