<b>Nov. 3, 2:31 a.m.</b>
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is leading Dino Rossi (R) by just more than 1 point, but the winner in the vote-by-mail state may not be known for weeks.
A spokesman at the Washington secretary of state’s office projected that as much as 40 percent of the total vote is not yet in. Envelopes needed only to be postmarked by Nov. 2.
“We’ve got the bulk of what we’re gonna get tonight,” communications director David Ammons said by phone late on election night.
All but a few precincts in Tacoma’s Pierce County now vote entirely by mail. Ammons said that it’s the first vote-by-mail general election for Seattle’s King County and that some counties were backed up by the intensive process.
Counties have three weeks to finish canvassing their votes. An automatic recount will not be called unless the margin is within 2,000 votes, Ammons said.
Colorado remained undecided as well late on election night. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) were locked in a tight battle, with each man taking the lead at different points in the night.
In Alaska, the results could also take weeks to certify as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) tries to hold on to her seat in a three-way race as a write-in candidate. Early Wednesday, the number of write-in votes was exceeding the vote totals of both Democratic nominee Scott McAdams and Republican nominee Joe Miller.
<b>Nov. 3, 12:57 a.m.</b>
With Democrats already assured control of the Senate, the parties split the remaining two of three “trophy seats” that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) had said would be the party’s top prizes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held off a well-funded and spirited challenge in Nevada from former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R). And Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk (R) won President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat against state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D).
“Despite being the number one target for National Republicans this election cycle, Leader Reid showed why, as a former boxer, he can never be counted out,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said in a statement.
“Mark Kirk made history by winning President Obama’s former Senate seat after a rigorous campaign,” Cornyn said in a statement.
Democrats also won the third race — Vice President Joseph Biden’s former seat in Delaware, where New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) defeated candidate Christine O’Donnell (R).
With Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s re-election, California turned out to be the majority-deciding state, despite the heavy investment by Republicans on behalf of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
“Despite the millions of dollars national Republicans sunk into this race, Senator Boxer’s tenacity and hard-work carried the day once again,” Menendez said.
<b>Nov. 3, 12:08 a.m.</b>
Despite a GOP takeover of the House, Democrats will retain control of the Senate in the 112th Congress after winning several battleground races Republicans needed for a majority.
The result was decided when California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) held off a stiff challenge from former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Needing to pick up 10 seats with about a dozen Democratic seats in play, Republicans were also unable to win Connecticut, West Virginia or Delaware, the three most challenging for the party of the earliest races to be called. That left no margin for error among the remaining competitive seats.
Because of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R) write-in bid, the results in Alaska may not be known until well after Tuesday. Elsewhere, Republicans held all of their seats, and picked up North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Colorado, Nevada, Illinois and Washington had still not been called.
Although Republicans still had an outside shot at winning the Senate by 11 p.m., National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) told a crowd at the American Solutions party in Washington, D.C., that the party is already looking toward 2012.
Still, Republicans picked up another Democratic seat in Wisconsin, where Sen. Russ Feingold lost to businessman Ron Johnson. Johnson had been expected to defeat the progressive Senator in a state that had trended Democratic in several previous cycles. In three previous elections in the swing state, Feingold never won with more than 55 percent of the vote.
Speaking to the group headed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) just before the race was called for Johnson, Cornyn said the GOP has a “very good chance of turning the corner” in two years.
That is consistent with what Republican operatives have said for weeks. The party was competing in states it was not anticipating at the beginning of the cycle, but the numbers still remained on the Democrats’ side.
The polls closed at 11 p.m. in California and Washington, while Nevada polls closed at 10 p.m. Along with those three states, the Senate races in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado remained undecided.
Speaking from Democratic headquarters on Capitol Hill, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) voiced optimism about Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in Pennsylvania and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) in Illinois, saying they “had great turnout operations, great ground games and close elections.”
“We’ll see when all the votes are counted, but we’d like to call Joe Sestak the comeback kid once again,” Menendez said. “And right now, it’s looking pretty good.”
By 10 p.m. Tuesday, there were still enough Senate seats in play for Republicans to win the majority, but that margin remained razor thin.
Gov. John Hoeven’s victory in North Dakota gave Republicans a third Democratic pickup, after Arkansas and Indiana. Seven competitive Democratic seats are undecided, and the GOP needs to win them all for control.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R) defeated Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) in Missouri. It was a heated race featuring members of two prominent political families that had implications for other races in the state and drew a lot of attention from outside groups. Blunt is the father of former Gov. Matt Blunt (R), and Carnahan is the sister of current Rep. Russ Carnahan (D). The Carnahans’ father, Mel Carnahan, served as governor, and their mother, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to his seat in the Senate when he was elected not long after he died. Blunt replaces retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R).
The races still had not been called in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Colorado, all seats held by Democrats in states where polls have closed. The GOP would also need to win Washington, California and Nevada.
Polls closed at 10 p.m. in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is facing a stiff challenge from former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R).
Meanwhile polls close at 11 p.m. in California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) faces former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and Washington, where Republican Dino Rossi is running his third statewide race in six years against Sen. Patty Murray (D).
The Republicans’ chances at winning the Senate lessened in September when their favored candidate, Rep. Mike Castle, lost a primary election to Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Castle had been poised to beat Democratic nominee Chris Coons, but O’Donnell’s pitfalls cost the party that race. Coons was quickly declared the winner earlier Tuesday night.
Republican Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), David Vitter (La.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) will also return to the Capitol as part of the next Congress. Vitter was the only one who faced a strong challenge: Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) tried to remind voters of the Senator’s admission that he used prostitutes, but he ultimately fell short.
Rep. Jerry Moran (R) won his race for Kansas’ Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Sam Brownback (R), who won the governor’s mansion Tuesday night.
By 9 p.m. Tuesday night, it became clear that Republicans would have to run the table in the remaining competitive races in order to take the majority, after the party failed to pick up West Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware.
Needing 10 seats to win the majority, Republicans have now picked up three Democratic seats, with seven more left to be decided. Polls closed at 9 p.m. in Colorado and Wisconsin, where two Democratic incumbents were battling in tight races.
Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln became the first incumbent Democrat to lose, when the Associated Press quickly called the race for Republican Rep. John Boozman. Boozman’s win followed former Sen. Dan Coats’ (R) victory in Indiana.
In Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) held off a well-financed challenge from World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon (R). Meanwhile, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) took the special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D).
As expected, popular North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven (R) sailed to a Senate victory over state Sen. Tracy Potter (D). He will replace retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D), and his win was essential if Republicans hope to take control of the Senate.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. in Illinois and Pennsylvania, two states featuring open Democratic seats, but neither had been called yet. The Republican-held open seat in Missouri also had yet to be called.
As of 8 p.m., there had been no surprise outcomes in any of the closely watched Senate races, with Indiana being the first Republican pickup of the evening.
Former Sen. Dan Coats (R) defeated Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) in the Indiana race. That outcome had been expected, as were the Republican victories in Kentucky, Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire. Democrats also held the Delaware open seat, where Chris Coons defeated Christine O’Donnell (R).
Polls also closed at 8 p.m. in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri — all of which feature top Senate races.
The first competitive race of the night to be called was in Kentucky, where physician Rand Paul (R) topped state Attorney General Jack Conway (D). Both national parties spent money on this race, as Democrats viewed Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R) open seat as a potential pickup opportunity.
Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), overcame early stumbles to hold one of only a handful of Republican seats considered in play by the last month of the campaign.
Republicans held another open seat in Ohio, where former Rep. Rob Portman defeated Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D). The race was tight coming out of the May primaries, but Portman’s fundraising easily outpaced Fisher’s and he pulled well ahead in the polls.
“Only two years after President [Barack] Obama won Ohio’s electoral votes, the Buckeye State’s voters soundly rejected his administration’s job-killing policies, higher taxes, and out-of-control debt,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in a statement.
Former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio won the three-way Florida Senate race over Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), who had led by wide margins in the last couple weeks of the campaign.
And in New Hampshire, Sarah Palin-backed Republican Kelly Ayotte defeated Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes, according to the Associated Press, which called the race with just 5 percent reporting.
There were no surprises in Maryland, where four-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski easily defeated Republican Eric Wargotz.
<b>Tricia Miller, John Stanton and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.</b>