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Nov 4, 2014 9:53 PM

Wins in Ark., WV, SD boost GOP Senate majority bid

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Republicans grabbed three Democratic-held Senate seats Tuesday and held out strong hopes for at least three more, which would make veteran Sen. Mitch McConnell the head of a new GOP majority and create new political problems for President Barack Obama.

Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, a state that has veered sharply toward the GOP since native son Bill Clinton left office.

Republicans also easily replaced retiring Democratic senators in West Virginia and South Dakota, and were poised to do the same in Montana.

That would give them four of the six new seats they need to claim the Senate majority for the first time in eight years and control of both congressional chambers.

McConnell, of Kentucky, won a sixth term of his own, and immediately warned Obama of coming confrontations. "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," McConnell told cheering fans.

A bright spot for Democrats, however, was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's victory in New Hampshire over Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts.

McConnell and Cotton, an Iraq combat veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, joined virtually every other Republican nationwide in relentlessly linking their opponent to the president whose popularity has sagged.

Pryor, the last Democrat in Arkansas' congressional delegation, is the son of a popular former governor and senator. But Arkansas and West Virginia have been trending sharply Republican. Obama lost Arkansas by 24 percentage points in 2012.

In Kentucky, Democrats once had high hopes for challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's young secretary of state. But the hill was too steep in a state Obama lost by 23 percentage points in 2012.

McConnell's allies taunted Grimes for refusing to say whether she had voted for Obama.

As expected, GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia won the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. And former Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota won retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's seat.

In Virginia, Republican Ed Gillespie mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge to first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

As Republicans awaited results elsewhere, they celebrated Sen. Tim Scott becoming the first black elected to the Senate from a former Confederate state since Reconstruction. He was appointed to the Senate last year, and won a term of his own Tuesday.

If he became majority leader, McConnell, 72, would have substantial powers to decide what legislation reaches the floor for votes, and when.

Democrats privately said they hoped to limit their net Senate losses to five seats, which would barely keep them in control. But even that would require them to win several races Tuesday where they were struggling.

In Louisiana, GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy forced three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu into a Dec. 6 runoff.

First-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska was another top target. Republicans, meanwhile, were hoping not to lose seats in Georgia and Kansas.

In Georgia, where GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring, Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue were locked in a tight battle.

In Kansas, three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts was scrambling to fend off independent candidate Greg Orman, who had persuaded the Democrat to leave the race and help him consolidate anti-Roberts sentiment. Orman hasn't said which party he will caucus with, however, so a Roberts loss doesn't automatically endanger the GOP's chances.

Elsewhere, contests for Democratic-held seats in three closely divided states could prove crucial.

In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan was facing state House speaker Thom Tillis. The race set records for campaign spending, with airwaves drenched in political ads. Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, and lost it in 2012.

In Colorado, first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Udall faced a strong challenge from GOP Rep. Cory Gardner.

Few campaigns were as feisty and close as Iowa's, where long-time Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring. Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst was facing Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley in a race that featured TV ads about castrating hogs, and a leaked fundraising video from Texas.

Barring a GOP wave, it's possible that control of the Senate won't be known for days or even weeks.

Slow vote counts in Alaska could make Republican Dan Sullivan's challenge against Begich too close to call for a while. Runoffs were possible in Georgia as well as Louisiana.

If a runoff or a vote recount in any closely contested state will determine which party controls the Senate, the spending and politicking will be extraordinary.

A Republican takeover of the Senate would be huge politically, but its impact on governing is unclear. Even with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, many of the dynamics that have fed federal gridlock for years would still be present.


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