Democrats Face Slimmer Prospects In New Senate

The electoral wave that carried Republicans back into control of the House did not rise high enough to lift them to the majority in the Senate. The GOP gained at least six seats from Democrats while losing none of its own. But even if they prevail in all three of the races still to be called — Colorado, Washington and Alaska — they would fall short. It's the first time in 80 years that the House has changed its majority without the Senate doing so as well.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Andrea calls it a divided government because Democrats still hold the White House. Democrats also held on to the Senate, but they're no longer anywhere near the dominant 60 votes they held not so long ago. Democrats are now in the low 50s.

NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Republicans knew all along that taking over the Senate was a long shot. While many of the House districts that went Republican last night had voted for Republican John McCain in 2008, most of the states where the GOP was hunting for Senate wins had voted for Barack Obama. All the same, the Republicans drove deep enough into these blue states to make the Democrats near-60 vote majority seem a distant memory. The Democrats may still be in charge, but they will need Republican votes to move anything forward.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear last night that he and his fellow Republicans see the election as a mandate for change.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): Well, we've heard loud and clear from the American people tonight - too much spending, too much debt, too many Washington takeovers. What we're sensing tonight is a huge case of buyer's remorse all across America. They told us to change this government and we're going to take the first step tonight, aren't we?

WELNA: But some may read last night's results also as a challenge to establishment Republicans such as McConnell. In his home state of Kentucky, McConnell had opposed the upstart who wound up winning the primary -ophthalmologist Rand Paul, who took the nomination and won last night with the strong backing of Tea Party enthusiasts.

At his victory celebration, Paul vowed as a senator he'll oppose government-led efforts to revive the economy.

Senator-Elect RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): Government does not create jobs. Individual entrepreneurs, businessmen and women create jobs, but not the government.

WELNA: Other prominent Tea Party favorites lost Senate races, however. Among them, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada. But in Indiana, voters returned former Republican Senator Dan Coates to the chamber he'd left 12 years ago, a veteran sent back with the blessing of the Tea Party. And in Florida, Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio also prevailed. At a victory celebration, the son of Cuban immigrants called the U.S. a place without equal in the history of all mankind.

Senator-Elect MARCO RUBIO (Republican, Florida): But we also know that something doesn't seem right. Our nation is headed in the wrong direction and both parties are to blame. And what Americans are looking for desperately are people that will go to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this agenda that is taking us in the wrong direction and offer a clear and genuine alternative.

WELNA: But leading Senate Democrats did not take last night's setbacks as a repudiation of their agenda. Instead, the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said Americans are simply frustrated with an economy that is not improving as fast as they'd like.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): There's still a lot of unemployment, a lot of uncertainty, and it's reflected in the votes. There's an anger about this uncertainty and a desire to have some solutions in Washington. But that really calls on us tomorrow to end the victory parties on either side and sit down together and try to work it out. You don't work it out by filibuster after filibuster after filibuster.

WELNA: Working it out did not seem to be on the mind of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last night. Having survived being the number one target in this election, Reid sounded anything but conciliatory as he claimed victory in Las Vegas.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): This race has been called but the fight is far from over. The bell that just rang isn't the end of the fight, it's the start of the next round.

WELNA: That next round begins in less than two weeks, when Congress reconvenes for a lame duck session. But even then, Democrats will not have enough votes to cut off debate as they push to wrap up the unfinished business of this Congress. It will only be a small taste of the more difficult circumstances they will face in January - in the new, divided Congress.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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INSKEEP: Some Senate races remain undecided this morning. Democrats are struggling to keep their seats in Washington State and Colorado. In Alaska, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski lost a primary but appears to be leading in a write-in campaign to keep her job.

Americans have heard these results on hundreds of local public radio stations, and you can follow more developments as you go through your day on your local station's website, at NPR.org, on Facebook and on Twitter. We're @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep.

This is NPR News.

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