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Women make gains in Democratic Senate, House stays Republican

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at 6:33 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 6:52 a.m.

— The election will bring a host of fresh faces to Congress, but the control of the two chambers will remain the same: Republicans keep a majority in the House of Representatives, and Democrats hold onto control of the Senate.

Democrats swept some of the most attention-grabbing Senate contests, including the faceoff between incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. Democrats are expected to retain their 53-47 edge, counting the Senate’s two independents as part of their total.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin bested popular Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson, becoming the first openly gay member of the Senate on a night when two states, Maine and Maryland, passed marriage equality measures. Baldwin won the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. With their victories and the apparent win in North Dakota by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, a record number of women joined the male-dominated Senate.

They also include Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono and Republican Deb Fischer, a state senator who thwarted former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey’s quest to regain his seat.

In Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown sailed to re-election, and in a closely watched race in Indiana, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly defeated Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Lugar. Mourdock, a tea party favorite who defeated Lugar in the Republican 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 case of “legitimate rape.” A lot of mainline Republican support deserted him as a result.

Democrats also retained Virginia’s Senate seat, as Tim Kaine defeated Republican George Allen, a former senator, in the battle of former Old Dominion governors. Kaine will fill the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.

Republicans kept the Arizona seat opened by the impending retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl after Rep. Jeff Flake defeated former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, was expected to narrowly hold the seat in the face of a challenge from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller defeated Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley.

Declaring victory, 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 Congress beginning in January.

“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 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, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will continue to wield the gavel. Democrats had hoped to make a dent at least in the Republican majority, and they unseated 12 Republican incumbents. But Republicans continue to hold the House, which they took over in 2010.

On the Senate side, Democratic incumbents racked up early wins, dashing Republican dreams of picking up four seats and becoming the majority party. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Manchin of West Virginia – a coal country lawmaker who often broke with President Barack Obama on environmental and regulatory issues – Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Thomas Carper of Delaware and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland won easily.

Their sixth win was a marquee match in New England, where Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy defeated Republican challenger Linda McMahon, a former wrestling executive who spent more than $42 million of her own money on her campaign, for the open Connecticut Senate seat created by the retirement of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucused with the Democrats.

Two New England independents, incumbent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, won their contests. Sanders, a fierce liberal, caucuses and often votes with the Democrats. King, who defeated Democratic challenger Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers for the seat being vacated by moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, hasn’t indicated which party he’ll caucus with, but criticized outside groups with Republican ties that attacked his campaign.

Among Republicans, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee handily won re-election. In Texas, tea party-powered Republican candidate Ted Cruz won the Senate seat opened by the retirement of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

In the Massachusetts race, Brown was running for his first full term against Warren, a Harvard University professor who was Obama’s choice to head the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before Senate Republicans blocked her nomination. Scott won a special election in 2010 to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.

The Brown-Warren race was one of the most-watched Senate races – and one of the most expensive. Brown and Warren agreed to refuse outside money from so-called super PACS – political action committees – or other third-party groups. Still, the two combined spent $68 million. Also expensive: the Montana Senate race, where outside groups pumped $30 million into the contest and the campaigns themselves spent an estimated $18 million to win in a state with just under 1 million people.

While Democrats and Republicans jousted for control of the Senate, there was no doubt that Republicans would continue to control the House.

Democrats would have needed a net gain of 25 seats to recapture control, 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 didn’t change, the chamber won’t be the same after Tuesday. 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.

Some of the more high-profile House races included nine-term California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren’s bid to beat back a serious challenge by Democrat Ami Bera for a Sacramento-area seat, a contest in which more than $6 million worth of outside money flowed in. Bera Wednesday morning was leading the race by 184 votes.

In Palm Springs, Democrat Raul Ruiz defeated California Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack, whose husband, Rep. Connie Mack, also lost his bid for U.S. Senate in Florida.

The tea party lost one of its more high-profile members in Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois. The House freshman lost to Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee Iraq War veteran who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Chicago-area voters also re-elected absentee Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who was gone from Capitol Hill for months after being diagnosed and treated for a bipolar disorder. He hasn’t been seen publicly since early this summer.

In Florida, Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite and one of two black Republicans in the House, appears to have lost his bid for a second term against Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy. Embattled Miami Rep. David Rivera, a Republican who faced criminal and ethical probes when he took office two years ago, lost to Democrat Rep. Joe Garcia.

In Utah, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love lost to incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, a member of the House’s conservative Blue Dog Democratic caucus.

The Blue Dogs were once a powerful 54-member moderate force in the House. But their membership was halved after losses to Republican candidates in the 2010 elections. Blue Dog membership is expected to be down to the teens after Tuesday’s results.

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.

Email: wdouglas@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter @williamdouglas

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