Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was declared the winner today in his tight race against tea party Republican Ken Buck, who has not conceded. If the win is certified as expected, it would give Republicans six pickups, and 47 Senate seats to 53 for Democrats in the next Congress.
Still undecided is the Washington Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is in a too-close-call contest with Dino Rossi. A Rossi spokeswoman today highlighted a statement by the Washington Secretary of State's office that the race is too close to call in a possible effort to discount any public perception that Murray is set to prevail.
In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowksi’s write-in bid appears likely to succeed, but the outcome of the race could be weeks away.
Bennet led by about 6,400 votes with 90 percent of votes counted, according to CNN.
If Bennet, appointed to the Senate in 2009 without any experience in elective office, hangs on, Murray’s race will determine if Democrats have 53 or 52 seats next year. Top Democrats today said either result would be good.
“We had a good night, considering the totality of history against us and the economic challenge that we inherited,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey told reporters.
Menendez said Democrats fulfilled their top goals of holding their majority and reelecting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who, behind a celebrated turnout operation, survived a challenge by tea partier Sharron Angle with a larger than expected margin.
Reid that in his experience, 53 seats “is a pretty good majority.” While lamenting the defeats of Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Russell Fiengold, D-Wis., Reid said “we are comfortable where we are.”
Republicans cast their pickups as a mandate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the election a rejection of Democratic policies, particularly their health-care overhaul bill and a vindication of his own strategy of near unilateral opposition to Democratic proposals to draw a contrast with the White House and Democrats.
Far from condemning what Democrats call GOP obstruction, voters “appreciated us saying 'no' to Democratic initiatives,” McConnell said at a news conference.
Republicans noted that in addition to knocking off Lincoln and Feingold, they easily picked up Democratic seats in Indiana and North Dakota, and took two more in tight races in Pennsylvania, where former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey edged Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, and in Illinois, where Rep. Mark Kirk beat Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
And Republican candidates cruised in seats of retiring GOP senators in Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Florida – races once expected to be close.
“We held all of our seats and are picking off theirs — including the president’s seat,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
But the victories by Reid; Sen. Barbara Boxer, who defeated former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in California, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who bested Republican John Raese to retain the seat once held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd, dashed GOP hopes of winning control of the upper chamber.
Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann, who focuses on Congress, said Republicans fell short in the Senate because of the large Democratic majority in the 111th Congress and a relatively small number of seats up, many of which were in blue and purple, not red, states.
Republicans now have their sights on regaining Senate control in 2012, when 23 Senate Democrats are up for reelection, including many in states won by Republicans in recent elections. Just 10 Republicans are up in 2012, and only two, Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, are in states that trend Democratic, though Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is also endangered.
Earlier Tuesday night, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons of Delaware, both Democrats, cruised to victory, while Republicans held on to GOP seats in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Utah.
The parties must now turn to internal politics. McConnell must deal with an expanded group of conservatives and an effort by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and others to force a Conference-wide earmark ban. A similar one-year House earmark moratorium and President Obama’s endorsement today of the ban add pressure on Senate Republicans.
If Murkowski prevails, Republicans must manage the awkward task of welcoming her back to their conference after stripping her of her leadership post in response to her write-in run. And they must decide whether to give into pressure from some conservatives to strip her of her ranking position on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Democrats must find an Agriculture chairman to replace Lincoln. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who may be in line for the post, outlined her interest today, though Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who has seniority over Stabenow, said in a statement he had not ruled out a bid for the position.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is expected to take over the Banking Committee chairmanship from retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Reid must also pick a successor to Dorgan as head of the Democratic Policy Committee.