Washington Democrats narrowly held their Senate majority Tuesday but suffered at least six stinging losses, including the Illinois seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, survived a fierce challenge from tea party Republican Sharron Angle. However, Republicans ousted two Democratic senators and picked up Democratic-held seats in four other states, leaving Reid with a greatly diminished majority.
Reid’s win, plus Democratic victories in California and West Virginia, kept Republicans short of the 10-seat gain they needed to control the 100-member chamber.
With Republicans taking over the House, Obama will need a Democratic-run Senate to champion his legislative agenda.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hailed his party’s gains. “Tonight, the voters ensured their message was heard loud and clear,” he said.
His task won’t be easy, however. Several of his new GOP colleagues are tea party acolytes who already have taken delight in tweaking the party establishment.
As for the Democrats, Reid, a former boxer, said, “the fight is far from over.” He called Tuesday’s results a bell signaling “the start of the next round.”
Veteran Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, and Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, lost their re-election bids. Republicans took open Democratic-held Senate seats in Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Indiana.
In Illinois, GOP Rep. Mark Kirk won a bitter contest against Democratic state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for Obama’s old seat. Giannoulias was dogged by legal woes at his opponent’s family-owned bank, while Kirk had his own problems after exaggerating his military record. Obama made several campaign appearances for Giannoulias, including last Saturday and Sunday.
Tea party champions won high-profile races in Florida and Kentucky, spearheading a likely cadre of libertarian-leaning Republicans who will press party leaders to be more adamant about lower taxes, less spending and smaller government.
Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio, of Florida, rocked the GOP establishment last spring by routing leadership favorites in party primaries. Then they beat back Democrats’ efforts to paint them as too extreme, winning comfortably Tuesday.
In Utah, tea party-backed Mike Lee also won easily after snatching the Republican nomination from Sen. Bob Bennett in March.
“Tonight, there’s a tea party tidal wave,” said an exultant Paul.
Some Republicans, however, will render a harsher judgment. Earlier this year, the GOP appeared in position to beat Reid and to claim Vice President Joe Biden’s old Delaware seat. But tea party upstarts won the Republican nominations in both states and proved to be seriously flawed challengers in the general election.
Republicans, however, recruited well in Wisconsin, Arkansas and elsewhere.
Feingold, a three-term Democrat, lost to GOP newcomer Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Best known for efforts to tighten campaign finance laws, Feingold was the only senator to vote against the so-called Patriot Act passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, calling it a dangerous infringement on civil liberties.
Johnson, 55, made a fortune in manufacturing plastics. He wants to repeal the nation’s new health care law, which he calls the greatest single assault on freedom in his lifetime.
Lincoln fell to GOP Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas, where Obama lost by 20 percentage points two years ago. Conservatives said Lincoln was too close to Obama, while liberals said she wasn’t loyal enough.
Republican Pat Toomey won a hard-fought race in Pennsylvania, narrowly beating Democrat Joe Sestak. The seat was held by Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, whom Sestak beat in the primary.
Indiana voters sent Republican Dan Coats, 67, back to the Senate after a 12-year absence. Coats, who spent a decade in the Senate before stepping down in 1998, defeated Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth. The seat is being vacated by Democrat Evan Bayh.