WASHINGTON • In a stunning rebuke of President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, the nation’s voters handed Republicans control of the Senate in Obama’s last two years in office.
Republicans won a vast majority of pivotal Senate races across the country, toppling at least three incumbents. The size of their new majority hinged on two states whose outcome was still in doubt as midnight struck in the nation’s capital.
It was not a wave quite on the scale of the GOP’s historic 1980 takeover of the Senate or its 1994 takeover of the House. But coupled with key gubernatorial wins in Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Florida and possibly deep-blue Maryland, Republicans’ gains in the Senate contributed to a wave that surprised even some in the party.
As polls were still open in the western half of the country, the president was already signaling his desire to change the subject from a bad Election Day for his party — Republicans also added to a 34-seat majority in the House— to dealing with a resurgent Republican Congress. Tuesday evening, as his party’s losses mounted, Obama called a meeting for Friday with leaders of the House and Senate.
How much cooperation Obama gets from Republicans may depend on the size of the GOP Senate insurgency.
That may not be known until next month. A close Louisiana election, where candidates were struggling to get to the required 50 percent, will probably lead to a Dec. 6 runoff.
“Voters sent a clear message today,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement. “They rejected President Obama’s policies, and they rejected the Senate Democrats’ refusal to debate hard issues.
“It’s time for Washington to get back to the people’s work, and a change in Senate leadership will create a greater opportunity to get things done.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s decisive win in Kentucky, four equally decisive wins in states where Democrat senators are retiring, and the defeat of Democrat incumbents in Arkansas, North Carolina and Colorado were early harbingers of a good night for McConnell’s party.
And Virginia, where Democrat Sen. Mark Warner was in a surprisingly close battle with Republican Ed Gillespie, provided the night’s surprise. That race is so close, there could be a recount.
As the night went on,the parade of losses began mounting for Democrats. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., was a lone bright point for Democrats, holding off a late surge from Republican Scott Brown.
When the night began, Republicans needed a net gain of six seats to control the Senate.
Besides McConnell’s re-election over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Republicans picked up open Democrat seats in West Virginia (won by Shelly Moore Captio), South Dakota (Mike Rounds), Iowa (Joni Ernst) and Montana (Steve Daines).
In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, unseated incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor. Colorado flipped, too, from Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, to his challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, according to network projections. And in a bellwether election in the swing state of North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis pulled off a tight victory over Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the Democrats’ hopes of holding off a major GOP surge.
When Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., defied late polls and won re-election over independent Greg Orman, a GOP rout was on.
Along with the runoff in Louisiana, where incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu entered as an underdog against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, late results in Alaska will determine how big the GOP majority will be. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, faced Republican Dan Sullivan, where polls were closed at midnight Central time.
In Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrats’ assistant majority leader, won re-election. But his leadership status will be diminished if Republicans take control of the Senate.
As Election Day progressed, Obama seemed to be bracing for the GOP Senate takeover. He told a Connecticut radio station that the states holding Senate races this year were “the worst possible group of states (for Democrats) since Dwight Eisenhower” was president more than half a century ago.
In his victory speech, McConnell said Americans “are hungry for new leadership — they want a reason to be hopeful.”
“Don’t expect the president to wake up tomorrow and view the world differently than he did when he woke up this morning,” McConnell went on. “He knows I won’t either. But look, we have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree. I think we have a duty to do that.”
The catch will be finding those issues. On everything from immigration reform to the war against the Middle East terrorist group Islamic State, Obama has great differences with McConnell.
Republican control of the Senate completes a 180-degree shift from the Democrat-controlled Congress that accompanied Obama into office in 2009 and that passed his signature Affordable Care Act.
But conflict with congressional Republicans, over issues from immigration to budgeting, has marred the middle years of Obama’s presidency and gridlocked the Senate the last four years.
As his party’s election outlook dimmed this fall, Obama threatened to take unilateral, executive action around Congress on stalled issues such as immigration reform. That would certainly prompt a legislative push-back from a Republican-controlled Senate and House and raise constitutional questions about divisions of power.
Obama is likely to ink up his veto pen if the Republican Senate and House send him a bill to repeal of Obamacare, as many Republicans want to do.
But a window of cooperation could open.
Carrying the burden of the legislative majority over Obama’s last two years, and with no Harry Reid as majority leader to blame for legislative bottlenecks, Republicans could push for action on issues that Obama may see as potential areas for compromise, such as energy policy and tax reform. Other tough issues such as long-term highway funding could also yield to compromise.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said he looked forward to being in the majority. “My role in the U.S. Senate will remain that of bridge-builder,” he said. “I look forward to finally advancing bipartisan legislation including that which will stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, will achieve energy independence, and will tax less, spend less and borrow less of Americans’ money.”