Democrats held their narrow majority in the Senate on Tuesday, grabbing GOP seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning aside Republican challenges in Virginia and Ohio. Republicans were well on the way to retaining control of the House, ensuring Congress will be divided at the start of President Barack Obama’s second term in office.
Republican candidates’ clumsy comments on rape and abortion proved to be the party’s undoing in two of the Senate races. The Democratic gains meant the GOP had to run the table in remaining open Senate seats in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico, but they trailed in three.
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly edged out tea party-backed Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock in a race rocked by the Republican candidate’s awkward remark that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended.”
Mourdock also upset some Indiana voters for his decision to sue to stop the federal auto bailout of Chrysler, which means jobs building transmissions to thousands in Kokomo. And he alienated some in his own party with his divisive win over six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the May GOP primary. Lugar refused to campaign for him.
In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren knocked out Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who had stunned the political world in January 2010 when he won the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat. The strong Democratic tilt in the state and President Barack Obama’s easy win over former Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts helped the consumer advocate in her bid.
The race was one of the most expensive in the country — $68 million — even though both candidates agreed to bar outside spending.
In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill was considered the most vulnerable incumbent, but Republican Rep. Todd Akin severely damaged his candidacy in August when he said women’s bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in instances of “legitimate rape.” GOP leaders, including Romney, called on him to abandon the race. Akin stayed in.
In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine edged out Republican George Allen in a battle of former governors. The contest attracted millions of dollars in outside spending.
Democrats currently hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, including the two independents who caucus with them. Republicans needed a net of four seats to grab the majority.
Republicans drove toward recapturing control of the House for two more years as the two parties traded gains from the Eastern seaboard to the Southwest.
With almost two thirds of the chamber’s 435 races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 173 seats and were leading in 58 others. There were about 20 other seats in Western states, where polls had just closed, where GOP incumbents were not facing serious challenges.
A party needs 218 seats to control the House.
By late evening in the East, Democrats had ousted five incumbent GOP House members to just two Democrats who were defeated by Republicans. But Republicans also picked up three open seats that had been held by Democrats who are leaving Congress.
In early returns, 69 Republicans and 36 Democrats won re-election. They included House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was unopposed; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland; and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, another top Democrat.
Also winning was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., the Chicago lawmaker who took medical leave from Congress in June and has been at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment of bipolar disorder. His only campaigning has been by automated phone calls to voters.
Democrats had been hoping to add the 25 seats they would need to take control of the chamber from Republicans, or at least gain a healthy number of districts. But after both sides’ House candidates and their allies spent a record $1.1 billion campaigning, it appeared Democrats might pick up just a handful of seats.
Although all 435 House seats were in play, only around 60 featured truly competitive races.