Republican candidates lost their bids for U.S. Senate seats in Florida, Maine and Connecticut, three of 10 critical contests that will determine which party controls the chamber in the next Congress.
In Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida won a third term, defeating Republican Representative Connie Mack IV. Nelson, the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Florida, was first elected to the seat in 2000 after Connie Mack III retired.
Democrats control the Senate 53-47. Republicans need to pick up four net seats to gain a majority.
In Maine, independent Angus King beat a Republican and a Democrat for the seat being vacated by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, whose decision in February to retire was an early blow to Republicans’ hopes of gaining Senate control. King, who is expected to caucus with Democrats, won what was a safe Republican-held seat.
Democrat Chris Murphy defeated Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., for the Senate seat in Connecticut now held by retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Murphy is a three-term U.S. congressman.
The Senate electoral landscape was supposed to favor Republicans, who are defending 10 seats compared with 23 Democratic seats on the ballot this year in the 100-seat chamber. The odds of a Republican majority dropped from 70 percent in February to just below 40 percent, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
Series of Setbacks
A series of setbacks diminished Republicans’ chances for taking control of the chamber, including Snowe’s decision to retire in a Democrat-dominant state and Indiana Senator Richard Lugar’s May primary loss. Cook rated 10 races as “toss-up,” where neither party appeared to have a clear advantage.
Less than two weeks before election day, Richard Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer, imperiled his attempt to replace Lugar by referring to pregnancies resulting from rape as “something God intended to happen.”
In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly, a congressman, was running ahead of Mourdock with 30 percent of the vote reported. Mourdock may be hurt by Andrew Horning, the Libertarian candidate who is peeling away 5.8 percent of the vote, according to the early tally.
To gain the majority, Republicans would have to hold all five of their competitive seats, including in Indiana and Massachusetts, and pick up four currently held by Democrats. If Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House, they would need a net gain of three since vice presidents cast tie-breaking votes.
The next Congress will face divisive tax-and-spending issues after years of unsuccessfully trying to reduce the budget deficit. Lawmakers also may have to address the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts that will start in January if Congress doesn’t act in a lame-duck session beginning this month.
Continued gridlock would be probable next year in a Congress with an unchanged balance of power, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. Both parties will “find things in this election to encourage them to continue to behave as they’ve behaved the last two to four years,” she said.
The top Senate races were flooded with advertising funded by outside partisan groups, including Virginia with $35 million, Wisconsin with $30.7 million, Ohio with $27 million and Indiana with $21.5 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Of all the Senate battles, Virginia may be the best harbinger tonight of which party is running stronger nationally. The race between former governors Tim Kaine, the Democrat, and George Allen, the Republican, has mirrored the top of the ticket in polls and the race has been tied for much of the campaign.
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