Republicans seize control of Senate in US midterm elections

Obama and Democrats suffer heavy defeats as GOP rule Congress for first time in eight years

US president Barack Obama suffered a heavy political defeat as Republicans won back the Senate from Democrats in the US midterm elections, giving the party full control of Congress for the first time in eight years.

In a victory that overshadows even the party’s 2010 election “wave,” Republicans surpassed the decisive six seats that the party required to retake the majority in the Senate, paving the way for even greater partisan gridlock and government dysfunction in Washington.

Benefiting from an unpopular president in his sixth year in the White House and voter anger about the state of the country, Republicans captured Senate seats in West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado and Iowa, and fended off Democrats in Kentucky, Georgia and Kansas, giving the party the 51 seats needed for a majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

The party could add another two seats, increasing its Senate majority with further gains in Alaska where dispersed votes take longer to count and in Louisiana where Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu faces a run-off against Republican Bill Cassidy on December 6th.


The Republican victory points to general economic discontent and resentment towards Mr Obama - whose approval ratings are running close to George W Bush levels during his 2006 midterms - as well as unease with the direction the country is taking under his administration.

In two of the election's biggest surprises, reflecting the party's strong showing in these elections, Republican Ed Gillespie ran a surprisingly close race against eventual winner Democratic senator Mark Warner in Virginia and Kansas senator Pat Roberts survived a tough challenge from Independent Greg Orman with a narrow victory.

In another surprise win, the Senate fell to the Republicans when North Carolina state lawmaker Thom Tillis defeated Democratic senator Kay Hagan, despite her spending some of the largest sums of money in a campaign of any of the party's candidates in these elections.

The Democratic leader in the Senate Harry Reid conceded defeat to his counterpart Mitch McConnell, one of the night's biggest winners who was re-elected for a sixth term in Kentucky and is on the verge of becoming the leader of the Senate, fulfilling a career-long goal.

In a victory speech, after a winning a hard-fought, costly race of his own, the veteran senator said that the election was “about a government that people no longer trust to carry out its most basic duties.”

“For too long this administration has tried to tell the American people what’s good for them and then blamed somebody else when their policies didn’t work out,” said Mr McConnell.

Reaching out to his Republican rival, Mr Reid said in a statement: “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together.”

Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, a favourite of the party's rebellious conservative grassroots, described the election results as a "powerful repudiation" of the Obama administration.

In a preemptive move to bridge cross-party divisions after these results, the White House invited Democrat and Republican leaders from the Senate and House to a meeting with the president on Friday.

There was no statement last night from Mr Obama’s press secretary in response to the surprising scope of his party’s losses.

Almost 6 in 10 voters described themselves as “dissatisfied” or “angry” at the Obama administration, though a similar proportion were unhappy with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

"We are heading to Washington - and we are going to make 'em squeal," said Republican Joni Ernst in Iowa, in a nod to her popular television campaign advert in which she pledged to "cut pork" - shorthand for government overspending - just as she had castrated hogs growing up on the family farm in the Hawkeye State.

Ms Ernst, an Iraqi war veteran, is the first woman to represent her state in the US Senate.

Heaping further pain on the Democrats, Republicans look set to increase their majority in the lower House of Representatives to margins not seen since the first half of the 20th century, picking up between 14 and 18 seats, according to an estimate by ABC News.

The Democratic losses also extended to key governor races. Republican challenger Bruce Rauner defeated sitting governor Pat Quinn in Illinois, Mr Obama's home, despite heavy campaigning by the president, one of the few states he visited for these elections.

Mr Obama's low approval ratings led vulnerable candidates in Republican-leaning states to shun him. The few states he visited showed his negative effect on voters where his party lost or struggled in traditionally solid Democratic states such as Maryland and Connecticut that he easily won in his landmark 2008 victory and re-election in 2012.

Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, a pivotal state in presidential elections, saw off Democrat Charlie Crist, a former GOP governor, in one of the most bitter, expensive races in these elections.

In West Virginia, Republican Shelley Moore Capito becomes the first female senator from the state. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker remains on track as a possible Republican presidential nominee in 2016 after winning the third election in four years in a state Obama won.

The party's winner in Arkansas, Tom Cotton, who at 37 will be the Senate's youngest member, defeated two-term Democratic senator Mark Pryor, playing up Mr Obama's unpopularity - in line with similar campaigns by Mr Tillis in North Carolina and Ms Ernst in Iowa.

Republican Cory Gardner unseated Democratic senator Mark Udall in Colorado, while New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen was one of the few Democrats to survive the handful of close races.

In an Irish-American win in these elections, Democratic Pennsylvania state representative Brendan Boyle, the son of a Donegal emigrant, was elected to the House of Representatives for a congressional district covering Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs.

In other ballots, Washington DC and Oregon voted to approve the legalisation of marijuana, while Florida voters opposed marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Votes had not yet been counted last night on a measure to legalise marijuana for recreational marijuana in Alaska.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times