Democrats expand their control of Senate
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
WASHINGTON ” Democrats retained and expanded their control of the Senate on Wednesday, ousting Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and John Sununu of New Hampshire and capturing seats held by retiring GOP senators in Virginia and New Mexico.
With 25 of 35 Senate races called, Democrats were guaranteed at least a 54-46 majority, including two holdover independents who vote with Democrats. But they were hoping for even greater gains in a political environment that clearly favored Democrats.
North Carolina state Sen. Kay Hagan, little known politically before her run, defeated Dole ” a former Cabinet member in two Republican administrations and 2000 presidential hopeful. Dole had tried to tie Hagan, a former Presbyterian Sunday school teacher, to atheists in an ad that appeared to backfire.
In New Hampshire, former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen defeated Sununu in a rematch of their 2002 contest.
Democrats now exercise a slim 51-49 control of the chamber. Piggybacking on aggressive Barack Obama voter-registration and get-out-the-vote drives in battleground states, Democrats were reaching for a coveted 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority. However, leaders in both parties portrayed that goal as a long shot.
Democratic former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner breezed to victory to take a Virginia Senate seat long held for by terms by retiring GOP Sen. John Warner. Warner beat another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, in the race to replace retiring five-term Sen. John W. Warner. The two Warners are not related.
In New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall defeated Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to succeed retiring Sen. Pete Domenici.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden won another six-year term representing Delaware in the Senate, although it would become moot if Obama wins the White House.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had been a target of national Democrats, won re-election against two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford in a contentious race.
With Warner’s victory in Virginia, Democrats now control both Senate seats and the governor’s mansion. Virginia usually votes Republican in presidential elections, but this year Democrats viewed it as one of their most promising pick ups.
Democrats were counting on a slumping economy, an unpopular war and voter fatigue after eight years of President Bush to bolster that majority, building on the six seats they added in 2006.
Reaching their goal of 60 seats was a stretch. But having a majority in the mid to high 50s would enable Democrats to exercise far more control than they have now, since some Republicans probably would join them in efforts to break Senate logjams on many bills and judicial appointments.
Democrats’ hoped that only two Democratic senators would lose their Senate seats as a result of the national elections: Biden and Obama. And if the Democratic presidential ticket prevails, Democratic governors in Illinois and Delaware are sure to appoint Democrats to replace them.
The Senate seats of Obama and GOP presidential candidate John McCain were not up this year.
Democrats had fewer seats to defend than Republicans. Of the 35 races on Tuesday’s ballot, 23 are now held by Republicans, 12 by Democrats.
Democrats also counted as a good prospect the Colorado seat of retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, where Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, son of the late Arizona Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall and cousin of Tom Udall, the New Mexico Senate winner ” faced former Republican Rep. Bob Schaffer.
Another possible pickup for Democrats: Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Stevens, at 84, the longest serving Republican in Senate history, sought re-election despite calls from GOP leaders to resign after he was convicted last week of seven counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms.
He was locked in a tight contest with Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. Another closely contested race was in Minnesota, where Republican incumbent Coleman was challenged by Democrat Al Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” writer and actor. A significant third-party candidate, Independent Dean Barkley, was complicating the race.
Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon was also on the list of Democratic targets.
Going into the election, only one incumbent Democrat appeared vulnerable: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Republicans made a spirited run at her, but Democrats saw her seat as a safe one.
Republican incumbent senators who cruised to re-election included Lindsay Graham in South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Sessions in Alabama, James Inhofe in Oklahoma, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, Pat Roberts in Kansas, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Michael Enzi in Wyoming. Sen. John Barrasso, appointed after Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas died, was elected to fill the remaining four years of Thomas’ term.
Democratic senators easily winning re-election included Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Dick Durbin of Illinois, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
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