Democrats won a narrow majority in the Senate on Tuesday, snatching Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia, Ohio and Connecticut to maintain the control they've held since 2007.
However, the Democrats failed to recapture the majority they lost two years ago in the House of Representatives.
With a third of the Senate up for election, Republicans were undone by candidate stumbles, with hopefuls in Missouri and Indiana uttering clumsy statements about rape and abortion that did severe damage to their chances and the party's hopes of taking over. The losses of Senate seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, combined with independent Angus King's victory in the Republican-held Maine seat, put the Republicans too far down in their already uphill climb.
'Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions.' —Harry Reid, Senate Majority leader
Going into the election, Democrats held a 53-47 edge in the Senate, including the two independents who caucus with them. Republicans needed a net gain of four seats to grab the majority. Democrats had a lock on 51 seats by early Wednesday morning, enough to keep control once President Barack Obama won re-election.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, offered words of conciliation after learning his party would maintain its control of the Senate.
"Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions," Reid said in a statement. "The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now they are looking to us for solutions.
"Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge. This is no time for excuses. This is no time for putting things off until later. We can achieve big things when we work together."
The caustic campaign for control of the Senate in a divided Congress was marked by endless negative ads and more than $1 billion in spending by outside groups on races from Virginia to Montana, Florida to New Mexico.
Democrats needed to gain 25 additional seats in the House to take the majority, but were not expected to hit that target, according to The Associated Press.
'The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority. The American people also made clear there's no mandate for raising tax rates.' —John Boehner, House speaker
Going into Tuesday's voting, Republicans controlled the House 242-193, including vacancies in two formerly Republican-held and three Democratic seats.
By early Wednesday, Democrats had defeated 12 GOP House incumbents — 10 of them members of the huge Tea Party-backed freshman class of 2010.
Republican losers included four incumbents from Illinois, two each from New Hampshire and New York, and one apiece from Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Texas.
But Republicans picked up nine previously Democratic seats. Their candidates defeated one Democratic incumbent apiece in Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania; they picked up one open seat each in Arkansas, California, Indiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma currently held by Democrats who retired or ran for another office.
With almost 90 per cent of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 227 seats and were leading in nine more. For a majority in the chamber, a party must control 218 seats. Democrats had won 178 seats and were leading in 19 others.
"To Canadians and the Government of Canada, the congressional races are … important to Canadian interests given the separation of structure of power in the state," said the CBC's Neil Macdonald from President Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago.
"About a year ago … smart political handicappers were predicting that the Republicans would take control of the senate in this race. Then along came the Tea Party. Tea Party started knocking out moderate Republicans in certain races and getting their candidates the nominations during primaries. That is costing the primary."
Though all 435 House seats were in play, only around 60 featured truly competitive races.
Tea Party problems
Democrats targeted many of the 87 members of the Tea Party-backed freshman class of 2010 that swept the Republicans to House control. Only about two dozen faced threatening challenges.
The economy and jobs dominated the presidential campaign, but there was little evidence either party had harnessed those issues in a decisive way at the House level. Both sides agreed that this year's election lacked a nationwide wave that would give either side sweeping strength — as occurred when Democrats seized control in 2006 and expanded their majority in 2008, and Republicans snatched the chamber back in 2010.
Democrats had predicted that waning public support for the Tea Party movement and disgust with gridlock between Congress and Obama would cost Republicans seats. They also said the reshaping of the popular Medicare health-care program would wound House Republican candidates — especially after the fiscal blueprint's author, Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, became his party's vice-presidential nominee.
From coast to coast, Democrats flooded the airwaves with TV spots linking Republican candidates to the Tea Party and to crusades to abolish Medicare and slash taxes for the rich. Republicans responded by tying Democratic candidates to Obama and his economic stimulus and health-care overhaul laws, especially in areas where he is less popular.
There were 62 districts where no incumbents were running at all, either because they had retired or lost earlier party primaries or because the seats were newly created to reflect the census.
When combined with likely losses by incumbents, the number of new House members in the next Congress could match the 91 freshmen who started serving in 2011 — a number unmatched since 1993.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio who was re-elected to his seat without opposition, claimed victory even before results were known and laid down a marker for upcoming battles in Congress.
"The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority," he said at a gathering of Republicans in Washington. "The American people also made clear there's no mandate for raising tax rates."
One of the top fights when Congress returns for a post-election session this month will be over the looming expiration of income tax cuts first enacted a decade ago under then president George W. Bush. Republicans want to renew them all, while President Obama wants the cuts to expire for the highest-earning Americans.
Here are some of the night's most interesting contests:
Republican Richard Mourdock — who slipped in the polls after saying during a debate that when a woman who is raped becomes pregnant, it's "something that God intended" — lost his U.S. Senate race in Indiana to Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly. Mourdock is a Tea Party-backed state treasurer who surprised Republicans when he beat six-term senator Richard Lugar in the primary. His debate comment last month re-shaped the tight Indiana race for the Senate.
Democratic Representative Chris Murphy has won a Senate seat in Connecticut, defeating former wrestling executive Linda McMahon. McMahon, who also ran for the Senate in 2010, spent more than $42 million of her own wealth on the race for retiring independent Senator Joe Lieberman's seat.
Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor, defeated Republican Senator Scott Brown, who won the seat in a January 2010 special election following the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. At $68 million, it was one of the most expensive races in the country, even though both candidates swore off money from outside groups. "This victory belongs to you," Warren told supporters at a victory celebration.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was considered the most vulnerable incumbent, but Republican Representative Todd Akin severely damaged his candidacy in August when he said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in instances of "legitimate rape." Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, called on him to abandon the race. Akin stayed in the race but lost to McCaskill.
In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine edged out Republican George Allen in a battle of former governors. The contest attracted millions of dollars in outside spending.
- In Maine, independent former Governor Angus King was elected to succeed retiring GOP Senator Olympia Snowe. He hasn't said yet which party he will side with — but Democrats rushed to his cause during his campaign. And after Tuesday's victory, Senate Democratic leader Reid reached out to him by phone.
- While GOP Rep. Paul Ryan lost the vice presidency, he did win another term to his Wisconsin House seat.