Republicans gain control of U.S. Senate in midterm elections



By Paul Koring
WASHINGTON — The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Republicans rolled up big victories on Tuesday and seized control of the U.S. Senate in midterms elections that tipped the balance of power away from President Barack Obama and will complicate his remaining two years in office.


Voters unhappy with Obama, worried about the economy and weary of partisan gridlock in Washington gave Republicans a majority in both chambers of Congress for the first time since elections in 2006.

Iowa Republican Joni Ernst won her race over Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina, giving Republicans seven pickups from Democrats. They had needed six net gains to control the 100-member Senate. At least 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats will be held by Republicans after Tuesday’s election.

Republican Senate candidates also picked up Democratic seats in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, South Dakota and Arkansas.

Republicans were hoping widespread voter disenchantment after six years of the Obama presidency would flip half-a-dozen Senate seats, giving them the control of both Houses of Congress.

“We’re gonna retake the U.S. Senate, and we’re gonna retire Harry Reid as majority leader,” predicted Alberta-born Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, a Tea Party favourite and likely Republican presidential contender in 2016. Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, will now be replaced as majority leader by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Jay Carney, a former spokesman for Mr. Obama, grimly conceded that a Republican Senate was likely.

The President blamed the map. “This is possibly the worst possible group of states for Democrats,” in 50 years, Mr. Obama said in a Tuesday telephone call to a Connecticut radio station. Yet those states were the same ones where – six years ago – Democrats rode Mr. Obama’s coattails to victory.

The dour Mr. McConnell won easily in Kentucky, defeating challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, who, like most Democratic candidates, had distanced herself from Mr. Obama.

Republican Shelley Moore Capito won in West Virginia, taking a vacant Senate seat that had been in Democratic hands since 1956. In Arkansas, Tom Cotton defeated Senator Mark Pryor, the first incumbent to go down in what loomed as a long night for the President’s party. In South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds won in another formerly Democrat-held seat. The Republicans picked up their fourth gain in Montana, where Steve Daines won another formerly Democratic seat. In Kansas, Pat Roberts retained his seat in a crucial race for Republicans. In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker beat Democrat Martha Coakley.

More than $4-billion (U.S.) has been spent – much of it out-of-state money from billionaires funding attack campaigns in key states – making this fall’s midterms the most expensive in the country’s history. Only a few of the ads were memorable.

In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst made herself famous by boasting she had castrated pigs as a farm girl and thus was well-equipped to cut the pork on Capitol Hill.

In all, 36 Senate seats were up for election but most of the attention was on the dozen most closely contested.

While Mr. Obama’s name isn’t on the ballot, the midterm elections were widely regarded as a chance for voters to pass judgment on the President. Most two-term presidents lose seats to the opposing party during the midterm elections of their second term in office, and polls strongly suggested Mr. Obama would be no exception.

But the scale of the losses – especially the Senate outcome – may take time to unfold.

In both Georgia and Louisiana, runoffs will be required if no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote. If there’s a 50-50 tie, Vice-President Joe Biden will hold the deciding vote.

Republicans already hold a commanding majority in the House of Representatives and were adding to it. If Republicans control both Houses of Congress, Mr. Obama’s last two years could be spent wielding White House veto pens as his opponents send him a steady stream of bills he may refuse to sign.

Legislation to repeal Obamacare, the President’s most significant but controversial domestic political achievement, will top Republican priorities if they control Congress.

But such bills will be largely symbolic because the Republicans will be far short of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the 100-seat Senate.

Republicans may also try and force Mr. Obama’s hand on approving Keystone XL, the controversial and long-delayed pipeline intended to funnel Canadian oil sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries. “The Republican House and the new Republican Senate are going to pass the Keystone pipeline,” Mr. Gingrich predicted as an early test of whether Mr. Obama was interested in bipartisan compromise.

Mr. Obama’s miserably low approval ratings meant many Democratic candidates, especially those in red states won by Mr. Romney, sought to distance themselves from the President.

Mr. Obama’s campaign efforts were limited and usually targeted to African-Americans and young people. Typical was a bid to help North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, another embattled Democrat who rode the massive wave of “Hope and Change” that put Mr. Obama in the White House six years ago. Mr. Obama delivered a last-minute robocall to thousands of partisans: “Voting is easy, so stand with me, President Obama, and take responsibility … by voting for Kay Hagan.”

From coast to coast, tens of millions of voters cast ballots in local and state elections, including on nearly 150 propositions in more than 40 states, ranging from upping the minimum wage to legalizing marijuana, outlawing bear-baiting and enshrining the right to hunt in Mississippi’s Constitution.

All 435 members in the House of Representatives – which carry two-year terms – were up for election, but all but a few dozen were safe for incumbents.

Voters were also choosing governors in 36 states.

With files from Reuters

Follow Paul Koring on Twitter: @PaulKoring