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Democrats hold narrow majority in US Senate, Republicans keep control of House

NEW YORK — A newly re-elected President Barack Obama will once again deal with a divided Congress as Democrats handily retained control of the U.S. Senate, while Republicans kept their solid majority in the House of Representatives.

The results of Tuesday’s election mean that President Barack Obama, despite being re-elected to a second term, will face the same Republican pushback in 2013 that has hurt efforts to enact his major legislation.

Democrats had been seen as vulnerable to losing control of the Senate, since they had more seats to defend, but they were assured of retaining or even increasing their 53-47 advantage. Among the winners for the Democrats was the first openly gay U.S. senator.

Republican candidates in Missouri and Indiana — both states won by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — were defeated after making damaging comments about rape and abortion. An incumbent Republican fell in liberal Massachusetts. Republicans also lost a seat in Maine, where an independent who is expected to caucus with the Democrats won.

Only a dozen or so Senate races out of the 33 on the ballot were seen as competitive, and almost all of those that were called Tuesday — in Wisconsin, Virginia, Connecticut, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida — went the Democrats’ way. Republicans picked up a Democratic-held seat in Nebraska.

More than $2 billion was spent on the nasty fight for Congress. All 435 House seats were on the ballot, and Republicans retained control there, though Democrats made a few gains.

With almost 90 per cent of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 227 seats and were leading in nine more. For a majority in the chamber, a party must control 218 seats. Democrats had won 178 seats and were leading in 19 others. That means the party mix in the new House will resemble the current one, which Republicans control by 240-190, with five vacancies.

While Republican Rep. Paul Ryan lost the vice presidency, he did win another term to his Wisconsin House seat.

House Speaker John Boehner, who gets to keep his job, offered to work with any willing partner, Republican or Democrat, to get things done. “The American people want solutions — and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our majority,” he told a gathering of Republicans.

But Boehner also said that by keeping Republicans in control of the House, voters made clear there is no mandate for raising taxes. Obama has proposed imposing higher taxes on households earning over $250,000 a year.

Control of the Senate at the very least gives Democrats a firewall against Republican attempts to overturn Obama’s signature legislative achievement, his health care reform law, before it is fully implemented in 2014. Republicans had promised to repeal it.

The first post-election test of wills could start next week, when Congress returns from its election recess to deal with unfinished business — including a looming “fiscal cliff” of $400 billion in higher taxes and $100 billion in automatic cuts in military and domestic spending to take effect in January if Congress doesn’t head them off. Economists warn that the combination could plunge the nation back into a recession.

Newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who won a marquee race against incumbent Scott Brown, said Wednesday she believes there is a “lot of room for compromise” on the impending fiscal crisis.

Warren, a favourite among liberals as a leading consumer advocate, told NBC’s “Today” that Congress can find a middle ground to bring down the deficit by cutting spending while raising revenues.

Democrats began the year in a precarious position, defending 23 Senate seats and losing several retiring veterans in Republican-leaning states, all while voter discontent lingered over the sluggish economy and Obama’s health care law. But the Democrats fielded some strong candidates, and Republican prospects were undermined by some candidates who proved to be too conservative and by the surprise retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe in Maine.

Snowe, a moderate, voiced her frustration with the gridlocked Congress when she announced her retirement earlier this year. Independent Angus King, a former governor, won a three-way race to replace her.

King has vowed to be a bridge between the parties and has not said whether he would caucus with the Democrats or Republicans. However, he was expected to side with the Democrats after Republican groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads attacking him.

After the last of the Senate races is decided, moderates from both parties in Maine, Connecticut, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia, Indiana and Massachusetts will be gone, and another in Montana could lose.

One new moderate will be in Indiana, where Democratic congressman Joe Donnelly won. Donnelly replaces moderate veteran senator Dick Lugar, who had been expected to easily win re-election before losing a Republican primary to state treasurer Richard Mourdock, a darling of the anti-tax, limited government tea party movement. Mourdock came under withering criticism after saying in a debate that when pregnancy results from rape, it is “something God intended.”

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill had been considered the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, but she defeated another tea party-backed candidate, congressman Todd Akin, who won the Republican primary. Akin was disowned by Republican leaders, including Romney, after he remarked in August that women’s bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in cases of what he called “legitimate rape.”

Two senators who rode a Democratic wave to the Senate in 2006 were elected to second terms: Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. In Virginia, Tim Kaine, a former governor and Democratic national party chairman, won a costly, close race against former Republican senator and governor George Allen after Democratic Sen. Jim Webb decided not to seek re-election.

In another tight race in Wisconsin, Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson and will become the first openly gay U.S. senator.

In Connecticut, Democratic congressman Chris Murphy won the seat being vacated by retiring independent Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000. Republicans had once hoped that the race would be won by Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment who spent more than $42 million of her own fortune in the race.

Some favourites of the tea party movement did well. Republican Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban-born father, won the Senate race in Texas, while Deb Fischer won in Nebraska over former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey.

In the Southwest, Arizona congressman Jeff Flake won a tough race against former Surgeon General Richard Carmona to hold a seat being vacated by a Republican. In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller turned back a strong challenge from Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley.

Senate races were still undecided early Wednesday in two conservative western states, Montana and North Dakota, which Romney won. In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester, who won one of the closest races in the Democratic wave election of 2006, held a narrow lead over congressman Denny Rehberg, while former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp had a slim lead over Republican congressman Rick Berg for the North Dakota seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the new Senate, Democrats will remain below the 60-vote supermajority needed to easily pass legislation under Senate rules.

“Now that the election is over, it’s time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the voters have not endorsed the “failures or excesses of the president’s first term,” but rather have given him more time to finish the job.

“To the extent he wants to move to the political centre, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way,” McConnell said.

 
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