Democrats keep majority, but lose at least 6 seats

By Charles Babington
Associated Press / November 3, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Democrats lost Senate seats in at least six states yesterday, but were guaranteed to keep the majority thanks to wins in California and West Virginia.

Republicans scored big wins, taking Senate seats from Democrats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas, North Dakota, Illinois, and Indiana. The net gain of 10 they needed for control of the chamber, however, eluded them.

With Republicans taking over the House, President Obama will need a Democratic-run Senate to champion his legislative agenda. And he’ll have the party’s leader in place. In the most-watched race, Harry Reid beat back a bare-knuckled challenge by Sharron Angle, who was backed by the Tea Party. The Republican Party had called winning Reid’s seat in Nevada one of its top priorities.

Veteran Democratic Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, however, lost their reelection bids.

But West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin held off millionaire Republican John Raese to keep a Democrat in the seat held for half a century by the late Robert C. Byrd. And Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, won a fourth term despite a spirited challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.

Those victories left Republicans no way to take the majority. They possibly could achieve a 50-50 split. But Vice President Joe Biden, the Senate’s official president, would break ties in the Democrats’ favor.

Tea Party champions won high-profile races in Florida and Kentucky, spearheading a likely cadre of libertarian-leaning Republicans who will press party leaders to be more adamant about lower taxes, less spending, and smaller government.

Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida rocked the GOP establishment last spring by routing leadership favorites in party primaries. Then they beat back Democrats’ efforts to paint them as too extreme, winning comfortably yesterday.

In Utah, Tea Party-backed Mike Lee won easily after snatching the GOP nomination from Senator Bob Bennett in March.

Feingold, a three-term Democrat, lost to GOP newcomer Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Best known for efforts to tighten campaign finance laws, Feingold was the only senator to vote against the so-called Patriot Act passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, calling it a dangerous infringement on civil liberties.

In Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, the Republican conservative whose popularity scared Arlen Specter out of the GOP, defeated Democrat Joe Sestak to claim Specter’s Senate seat.

Lincoln fell to GOP Representative John Boozman in Arkansas, where Obama lost by 20 percentage points two years ago.

Indiana voters sent Republican Dan Coats back to the chamber after a 12-year absence. Coats defeated Democratic Representative Brad Ellsworth. The seat is being vacated by Democrat Evan Bayh.

In North Dakota, Republican Governor John Hoeven handily won the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan.

Republican Mark Kirk has won the Senate seat from Illinois that Obama once held, defeating Alexi Giannoulias despite a visit last week by the president.