Democrats handily secured a majority in the Senate on Tuesday, snatching Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Connecticut to maintain the control they've held since 2007.
With a third of the Senate up for election, Republicans were undone by candidate stumbles. GOP hopefuls in Missouri and Indiana uttered clumsy statements about rape and abortion that severely damaged 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 GOP too far down in their already uphill climb.
Democrats held open seats in Virginia, Wisconsin and New Mexico, and were leading in North Dakota shortly after midnight. The only pickup for the Republicans was Nebraska, where Deb Fischer denied former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey's bid to return to the Capitol.
Democrats, once on the wrong side of the political math with 23 seats at risk compared with only 10 for the GOP, suddenly looked like they could increase their numbers. They entered the night with a 53-47 edge, including two independents who caucus with them. After midnight, Democrats controlled 52 seats to the GOP's 44 with three races still outstanding and one newly elected independent, Angus King of Maine, saying he hasn't decided which party he will align with.
In charge again, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republicans brought defeat on themselves with their preoccupation with denying President Barack Obama a second term.
"Things like this are what happens when your No. 1 goal is to defeat the president and not work to get legislation passed," Reid said. "The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now they are looking to us for solutions," he said in a separate statement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the voters have not endorsed the "failures or excesses of the president's first term," but rather have given him more time to finish the job.
"To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we'll be there to meet him half way," McConnell said.
The results were a bitter loss for the GOP and are certain to prompt questions about the promise and peril of the tea party movement that just two years ago delivered a takeover of the House to the GOP. In 2010, three tea party Senate candidates in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado cost Republicans seats they were favored to win. On Tuesday, a tea party-backed candidate in Indiana denied the GOP a seat that the party had been favored to win, while Fischer and tea party-backed Ted Cruz of Texas prevailed in their races.
In a sober statement, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the GOP has work to do.
"We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party. While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight," Cornyn said, though he added that the party's "conservative vision is the right one to secure a stronger America for future generations."