Republicans entered Tuesday’s midterm elections as heavy favorites to take back the Senate, but signs pointed to Democrats putting up a fight on several fronts, leading to a messy political picture involving runoff elections that would leave control of the Senate in the balance for days or even months.
Things were a whole lot easier for the GOP than most prognosticators imagined.
The Republicans dominated the election scoreboard, winning almost every competitive race and gaining control of the Senate before midnight.
The GOP easily picked up seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota that had been held by retiring Democrats and ousted Democratic Senators in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina while easily holding onto its own seats in Kentucky, Georgia and even Kansas, where incumbent Senator Pat Roberts was an underdog against Independent Greg Orman.
Early Wednesday morning, the GOP was also closing in on ousting another Democratic incumbent, Mark Begich in Alaska, who trailed Republican Dan Sullivan by 11,000 votes with 74 percent of precincts reporting. A fifth Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, is likely to lose in a January runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy, and a sixth, Mark Warner of Virginia, was leading his Republican challenger by only 0.6 percentage points early Wednesday morning in a race the networks said was too close to call.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who the Democrats hoped to unseat, trounced Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes and is poised to become the Senate Majority Leader when the new Congress begins in January. (Watch McConnell’s victory speech at the top of this post.)
McConnell got a congratulatory tweet from Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who will surrender his job as Majority Leader to McConnell.
Republican Thom Tillis also upset Kay Hagan’s campaign to maintain her Senate seat in North Carolina, grasping a close victory in the state that was polling in favor of Hagan.
The GOP also gained 12 seats in the House of Representatives, giving the party its biggest majority in almost a century and adding to the thrashing they delivered to Democrats across the country.
At midnight Eastern, Republicans were also dominating governor’s races, taking two net victories with Charlie Baker beating Martha Coakley in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan beating Anthony Brown in Maryland.
The sway of the elections is reminiscent of the 2006 Democratic rout midway through President George W. Bush’s second term, when the Democrats won 6 Senate seats and 31 House seats to take full control of Congress.