Democrats Retain Control Of U.S. Senate

One-third of Senate seats were up for election. Republicans lost seats in Massachusetts and Indiana. And Democrats withstood hard-fought challenges to seats they have controlled since 2007 in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Connecticut.

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Ohio voters also reelected Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. His was one of many Democratic seats the Republicans once hoped to capture as they drove to win a Senate majority. They were favored at the start, but fell short, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The headline may be that Democrats remain in charge of the Senate, but the story of this year's Senate races is largely about women. A record 18 of them contested Senate seats, and in three states - Hawaii, California and New York - the Democrats and Republicans on the ballots were all women. Democrats won all three. It was also a night of firsts for women, nowhere more so than in Wisconsin, where Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin defeated former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.

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SENATOR-ELECT TAMMY BALDWIN: Now, I am well aware that I will have the honor to be Wisconsin's first woman U.S. senator.

WELNA: To which she added...

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BALDWIN: And I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member...

WELNA: And here in Missouri, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill easily won reelection by beating GOP Congressman Todd Akin. He'd been considered a shoe-in to win the seat until he declared in August that a woman could resist becoming pregnant in cases of what he called legitimate rape. Last night, McCaskill chided what she called the political chattering classes who'd earlier forecast her demise.

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SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: And they all said it's over. It's done. It's too red. It's just too red. There is no way that Claire McCaskill can survive. Well, you know what happened? You proved them wrong.

WELNA: And another Republican Senate candidate in Indiana may have sealed his defeat with remarks about rape. Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite who defeated long-time incumbent Dick Luger in the GOP primary, lost after declaring that pregnancies resulting from rape are God's will. Even, in conceding defeat, he did not back down.

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RICHARD MOURDOCK: Over the weeks, the months, the years ahead, I will look back knowing that I was attacked for standing for my principles.

WELNA: Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly, who beat Mourdock, said people in this state opted for bipartisan cooperation.

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REPRESENTATIVE JOE DONNELLY: We have a tradition in Indiana in the United States Senate, and that tradition are people like Richard Luger and Evan Bayh, who work together, whose only focus is on what's right for our country.

WELNA: One bright spot for Republicans last night was Nebraska, where GOP rancher and State Senator Deb Fischer won the seat occupied by retiring Democrat Ben Nelson. In Arizona, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake won the seat being vacated by Republican Senator Jon Kyl, and vowed to keep crusading for fiscal austerity.

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REPRESENTATIVE JEFF FLAKE: We have to go back to Washington and make sure that first the Senate passes a budget. And then second, that we stick to that budget and make sure that we don't pile on more debt for our kids and our grandkids.

WELNA: But Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who last night defeated Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, had a very different message.

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SENATOR-ELECT ELIZABETH WARREN: To all the seniors who deserve to retire with the security they earn, we're going to make sure your Medicare and Social Security benefits are protected, and that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.

WELNA: And despite being outspent nearly three-to-one by GOP challenger Josh Mandel and groups supporting Mandel, Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown got reelected. Last night, Brown derided the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of unlimited campaign spending.

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SENATOR SHERROD BROWN: Citizens United might be a new name dressed up in an expensive, 21st century suit, but it's an old story where a few people - a few very, very rich people - wanted to rig the system for themselves.

WELNA: Although Democrats did far better last night than expected, less clear is whether the gridlocked Senate they've been in charge of will also do better. David Welna, NPR News, St. Louis.

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