By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times
Republicans held all of their seats and picked up more than the six seats needed to take control of the Senate Tuesday night, as voters across the country delivering a scorching rebuke of President Obama’s tenure.
Pickups in South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina earned Republicans the majority with a seat to spare, and they were already the favorite to win a runoff in Louisiana in December, which would give them 53 seats.
Republicans also were poised to capture the Democratic-held seat in Alaska and staged a surprisingly close finish in Virginia, though incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner appeared to be holding on to a razor-thin lead and declared victory before Republican Ed Gillespie conceded the race.
Voters, seething at an economy still struggling to recover six years after they hired Mr. Obama for that job, directed their anger at his allies in Congress and in the statehouses, though the election was not an affirmative mandate for Republicans either, according to exit polls.
Still, the GOP avoided missteps that cost it in 2010 and 2012, overcame fears that its voter turnout ground game would be swamped by Democrats and rode voter discontent to victories across the board.
Republicans were set to expand their House majority, with strong showings in suburban districts that had been problematic for them in recent elections.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, who easily defended his seat in Kentucky, is now poised to be the next majority leader in the Senate, while House Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team are likely to remain intact there.
“For too long, this administration has tried to tell the American people what’s good for them and then blame somebody else when their policies didn’t work out. Tonight, Kentucky rejected that approach,” Mr. McConnell said at his victory party.
Still to be seen is the fate of Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who has been majority leader for the last eight years, and whose orchestration of the Senate floor left Democrats tied closely to President Obama with little chance to show independence.
Mr. Reid issued a statement congratulating Mr. McConnell and gave every indication he expects his own troops to keep him on as their leader in the minority.
“The message from voters is clear: They want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class,” Mr. Reid said.
A chastened White House announced late Tuesday evening that Mr. Obama had invited congressional leaders to the White House on Friday to try to chart a path forward, hoping to find at least some issues where the two parties could cooperate.
Seething with discontent, voters took their anger out on Democrats up and down the ballot. While Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was crushed in his re-election bid in Pennsylvania, that was the lone bright spot for Democrats.
Republicans won governorships from Democrats in Illinois and Arkansas, and were leading in returns in Maryland. They also defended their own governorships they claimed in 2010 in blue states such as New Mexico and purple states such as Ohio and Wisconsin. They also held red states such as Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina.
Voters told exit pollsters they were fed up with Washington and had lost faith in government to do what’s right, and did not express much optimism that Republicans would right things. Still, with Mr. Obama saying his policies were on the ballot, voters sent the clearest signal of dissatisfaction to him, just six years after they made him the country’s first black president and gave him a “hope and change” mandate to change things.
Republicans vowed to try to find areas of agreement, but said the biggest changes will be procedural, with the Senate freed up to debate big issues and take important votes.
“Americans supported Republicans today because they want Washington to end the gridlock and start solving problems,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and a member of the GOP’s leadership in the chamber. “After years of delay, obstruction and partisan political stunts, the Senate is about to finally function again. This election has been good for our country and good for the American people.”
As much as Democrats tried to downplay national implications, voters said they went to the polls intending to send a message to Mr. Obama and his team up and down the ticket.
“Anything you can think of that Obama has done, I’m against,” said Joanne Theon, a 72-year-old retired nurse voting in Northern Virginia. “Not just only Obama, but [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid. I want in the worst way to demote Harry Reid.”
Republicans were poised to accomplish several firsts.
Tim Scott of South Carolina became the first black Republican since Reconstruction to be elected to the Senate from the South. He was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy but cruised in his re-election bid, as did seatmate Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Republicans scored a double victory in Oklahoma and held the Senate seats in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Maine â€” that last being Susan M. Collins, the sole Republican senator running for re-election in a state Mr. Obama carried in 2012.
The GOP victories marked a turnaround from 2012, when Republicans expected to make gains but ended up losing two seats in the Senate and a half-dozen seats in the House, getting trounced in candidate recruitment and in turnout operations.
This time, Republican candidates managed to avoid gaffes such as the abortion comments that sank at least two Senate nominees in 2012. Instead, it was Democrats whose gaffes cost them winnable races.
“There is a recognition in our party that we would have a whole lot more senators today if we had not nominated candidates in ’10 and ’12 who ended up being our own worst enemies,” said Haley Barbour, a former Republican Party chairman and former Mississippi governor. “I don’t think there is some party official that dictates that â€” I think the average Republican realized that we need to nominate people that can win, that purity is the enemy of victory.”
In a radio interview Tuesday, Mr. Obama said the map was bad for Democrats because of the seats up for re-election. White House press secretary Josh Earnest tried to distance the president from the bad news by saying his agenda wasn’t at stake.
“The vast majority of voters are making a decision on Election Day based on the merits associated with the candidates at the top of the ballot,” Mr. Earnest said.
But most of the Democratic senators had little other than the Obama agenda to take to voters, given the gridlock in Washington in recent years and Mr. Reid’s orchestration of the chamber floor, which meant senators had little choice but to repeatedly vote up or down on the president’s policies.
Voters told the exit polls that Mr. Obama was on their minds, which cost Democrats votes.
Mary Harper emerged from a polling station in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, having broken with her family’s long tradition of voting Democrat to cast her ballot for Republican Shelley Moore Capito for U.S. Senate.
“Since we’ve grown up, we’ve learned that sometimes you go with Republicans,” said Ms. Harper, 62, a registered Democrat.
Incumbent Democrats survived in Minnesota and Illinois, and Democrats held on to a seat in Michigan, where one of their longtime incumbents is retiring.
In the House, Democrats struggled to defend their own seats, much less find Republican targets to attack. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, speaking just before the first polls closed, called it a “difficult night.”
Elections in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa each swamped the previous record for most outside spending in a Senate race, totaling nearly $200 million between them, according to a tally Monday from the Brennan Center for Justice.
Still to be seen is whether Congress will be any more governable in the next two years than it has been over the past four, when Republicans controlled the House and Democrats had a majority in the Senate, and they regularly stalemated on each other’s priorities.
Immigration legislation that cleared the Senate never received a vote in the House, while Republican bills to scale back Mr. Obama’s environmental regulations and boost energy production passed the House but never saw action in the Senate.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president in 2012, said the GOP gains in Tuesday’s election were fueled by voters finally experiencing the inability of a big federal government to deliver on Mr. Obama’s promises.
“It’s the incompetence of big government that voters are responding to,” Mr. Ryan said Tuesday night from his election headquarters in Wisconsin.
But Republicans have had a difficult time reaching agreement among themselves in the House on a host of issues, and that problem now becomes one for Mr. McConnell as well.
Joni Ernst, who was the projected GOP leader in Iowa, signaled some of the fervor the newcomers will bring to Congress.
“We are headed to Washington, and we are going to make ’em squeal,” she said at her victory party.
â€¢ David Sherfinski, Jacqueline Klimas and Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.