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Republicans seize Senate, dumping despair on Democrats and Obama

GOP gained at least seven seats in Senate and tightened grip on House in landslide victory

Sweeping victories across the United States saw the Republican Party recapture the Senate on Tuesday in a dismal night for Democrats that will likely hamstring President Barack Obama final two years in office.

The signs for a poor night for the Democrats were seen in the first major race called, with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell dispatching Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky after a $78 million campaign of unrelieved negativity.

As more and more Senate races went the GOP’s way — including a series of Republican gains — it became increasingly likely that the Senate minority leader would soon become its majority leader.

"Friends, this experiment in big government has lasted long enough," McConnell told supporters at a post-election party in Louisville, Ky. "It’s time to go in a new direction."

Voters are "hungry for new leadership,” McConnell added. “They want a reason to be hopeful.”

Two-term incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas fell to freshman Rep. Tom Cotton. Then Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado was defeated by Rep. Cory Gardner.

Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, a state senator, won her U.S. Senate race over Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina, giving Republicans seven pickups from Democrats — one more than it needed to capture the Senate majority.

Among those seats were West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, where Democratic senators had retired. It meant that by midnight, Republicans were projected to end a Democratic majority in place since 2006.

The GOP also tightened its grip on the House, though dozens of races were uncalled early Wednesday morning. The GOP had picked up nine seats previously held by Democrats and given up only one.

Obama was at the White House as voters remade Congress for the final two years of his tenure. With lawmakers set to convene next week for a postelection session, he invited the leadership to a meeting on Friday.

While voting was underway across the country, Obama phoned in to Connecticut’s NPR affiliate Tuesday afternoon to comment that the political landscape for these midterms tilted against Senate Democrats, saying "this is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.”

Even with Senate control hanging in the balance, voter turnout was expected to be low. That was despite the efforts of both parties and an influx of campaign cash estimated to be in the region of $4 billion, making these the most expensive midterm elections ever.

A shift in control of the Senate will likely result in a strong GOP assault on budget deficits, additional pressure on Democrats to accept sweeping changes to the health care law that stands as Obama's signal domestic accomplishment, and a bid to reduce federal regulations.

Beyond the Senate

There were 36 gubernatorial elections on the ballot, and several incumbents struggled. Tom Wolf captured the Pennsylvania governorship for the Democrats, defeating Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett.

In a footnote to one of the year's biggest political surprises, Randolph-Macon College
professor Dave Brat was elected to the House from Virginia, several months after the tea partyer defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.

House Republicans defeated 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall in West Virginia, beat Democratic Rep. John Barrow in Georgia and picked up a seat vacated by a lawmaker in North Carolina.

Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had little opposition in coasting to a 13th term and is likely to retain his leadership post.

Prior to the races being called, pollsters had already given the GOP a strong chance of winning back the Senate majority it lost in 2007.

Nearly two-thirds of voters interviewed after casting ballots said the country was seriously on the wrong track. Only about 30 percent said it was generally going in the right direction.

More than four in 10 voters disapproved of both Obama and Congress, according to the exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.

Still, a majority of those polled supported several positions associated with Democrats or Obama rather than Republicans — saying immigrants in the country illegally should be able to work, backing U.S. military involvement against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, and agreeing that climate change is a serious problem.

But even supposedly safe Democratic seats, such as Virginia, ran close.

There, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner held a narrow lead over former Republican Party Chairman and Bush administration official Ed Gillespie.

The final Senate balance was not known Tuesday night, with the Louisiana race headed for a runoff between incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican Bill Cassidy. And Alaska's final tally may take days.

A rare victory for Democrats came in New Hampshire, where Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was re-elected after a difficult race against former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.

But in Georgia, Michelle Nunn lost to businessman David Perdue, depriving the Democrats of their last best chance to capture a Republican seat. In Kansas, 78-year-old Sen. Pat Roberts fended off a challenge from independent Greg Orman.

There were 36 Senate races on the ballot, although most of the attention went to fewer than a dozen. They drew hundreds of millions of dollars in attack ads in a campaign season estimated to have cost billions of dollars.

In statehouse races, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York won a second term; former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson was elected governor of Arkansas more than a decade after playing a prominent role in President Bill Clinton's impeachment and trial; and Florida Gov. Rick Scott won a tough race for a new term over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2016, also won a new term.

Another possible White House hopeful, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, led his rival Mary Burke.

Obama raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates over the past two years, but candidates in state after state decided not to be photographed by his side. Obama was in eight states in the campaign's final days, hoping to help gubernatorial candidates in Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine.

The president will face different challenges going forward: rebuilding the confidence of his party as it heads toward the 2016 presidential race, and attempting to push through legacy issues in the face of a hostile House, and now Senate.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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