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 in Massachusetts 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 cases 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 a battle of former Virginia governors. Kaine will fill the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
Votes in Senate contests in North Dakota and Montana, seats now in Democratic hands, and in a Republican-held seat in Nevada were still being counted late Tuesday night. But at worst, Democrats will retain their 53-47 advantage in the Senate, counting the Senate’s two independents as part of their total.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Senate Democrats and Republicans to work together in the closing days of the current Congress and in the 113th gathering next year.
“The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions,” Reid said in a written statement. “This is no time for putting things off until later. We can achieve things when we work together. And the middle class is counting on us to achieve big things in the months ahead.”
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 ended.
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.
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. 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.
The tea party lost one of its more high-profile advocates in Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois. The House freshman lost to Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
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.
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.