Democrats Score In Push To Expand Majority

Democrats have increased their effective majority to at least 56 seats in the 100-member Senate. They did not turn over a single Senate seat to Republicans. All Democratic incumbents on the ballot prevailed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Barack Obama will have new allies when he moves in to the White House. Democrats expanded their majorities in Congress.

INSKEEP: In the Senate, they took at least five seats held by Republicans. That adds to the Democrats' power, though they're still short of 60 senators, the number needed to keep Republicans from blocking Senate business.

MONTAGNE: In a moment, we'll talk to Harry Reid, the leader of that expanded majority. We begin with NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: The first Republican Senate seat picked off by a Democrat went to the former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner. He soundly defeated another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore. Both men were contesting the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator John Warner. In claiming victory last night, Mark Warner said he spent his first two years as governor trying to get Virginia out of the fiscal ditch he said was left him by the Reagan administration.

Senator-elect MARK WARNER (Democrat, Virginia): And we can do the same thing and make America the most competitive nation in the world if we do it together.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

(Soundbite of crowd chanting "Yes, we can")

Senator-elect WARNER: And with all of the recent excesses on Wall Street, I don't know about you, but it might be time to send a few more senators up there that can actually read a balance sheet.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

WELNA: Then in North Carolina, it was Democrat Kay Hagen's turn to claim victory. She scored a come-from-behind win against first-term Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole in a bitterly fought race.

Senator-elect KAY HAGEN (Democrat, North Carolina): What a difference a year makes. A little over a year ago, when I got into this race, the press...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator-elect HAGEN: The pundits, other politicians, and all were ready to write this race off and hand Elizabeth Dole the keys to her office for another six years.

WELNA: In New Hampshire, victory also went to another Democratic woman. After having lost six years ago to Republican Senator John Sununu, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen staged a successful comeback.

Senator-elect JEANNE SHAHEEN (Democrat, New Hampshire): I am proud to have been New Hampshire's first woman governor...

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

Senator-elect SHAHEEN: And I am so honored that tonight you have chosen me as your first woman senator.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

WELNA: Two open Republican-held seats in the West also went to Democrats. In New Mexico, Congressman Tom Udall won the seat long held by retiring Republican Senator Pete Domenici. Udall's cousin Mark Udall, who is also a member of the House, won his bid in Colorado for the seat held by retiring Republican Wayne Allard. Another cousin of the Udalls, Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith, remains in a contest too close to call with Democrat Jeff Merkley. Another extremely close race in Minnesota appears headed for an automatic recount. The Republican incumbent Norm Coleman predicted last night he would beat Democratic challenger Al Franken, and he reminded supporters of his work with another senate Republican.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): John McCain is a great American. He has always put - he has always put country first, and he will continue to serve this country. I look forward to working with him in the United States Senate when we finish this off.

WELNA: Also unclear is the fate of Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens who was convicted last month on seven felony charges involving unreported gifts. He remains locked in a tight contest with Democratic challenger Mark Begich. And while Delaware Democrat Joe Biden won re-election last night, he also won the vice presidency. A replacement will be named by Delaware's Democratic governor, just as President-elect Obama's replacement will be chosen by the Democratic governor of Illinois. David Welna, NPR News.

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