On the Senate side, Democratic incumbents racked up early wins, dashing Republican dreams of picking up four seats and becoming the majority party. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Manchin of West Virginia – a coal country lawmaker who often broke with President Barack Obama on environmental and regulatory issues – Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Thomas Carper of Delaware and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland won easily.
Their sixth win was a marquee match in New England, where Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy defeated Republican challenger Linda McMahon, a former wrestling executive who spent more than $42 million of her own money on her campaign, for the open Connecticut Senate seat created by the retirement of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucused with the Democrats.
Two New England independents, incumbent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, won their contests. Sanders, a fierce liberal, caucuses and often votes with the Democrats. King, who defeated Democratic challenger Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers for the seat being vacated by moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, hasn’t indicated which party he’ll caucus with, but criticized outside groups with Republican ties that attacked his campaign.
Among Republicans, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee handily won re-election. In Texas, tea party-powered Republican candidate Ted Cruz won the Senate seat opened by the retirement of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
In the Massachusetts race, Brown was running for his first full term against Warren, a Harvard University professor who was Obama’s choice to head the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before Senate Republicans blocked her nomination. Scott won a special election in 2010 to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.
The Brown-Warren race was one of the most-watched Senate races – and one of the most expensive. Brown and Warren agreed to refuse outside money from so-called super PACS – political action committees – or other third-party groups. Still, the two combined spent $68 million. Also expensive: the Montana Senate race, where outside groups pumped $30 million into the contest and the campaigns themselves spent an estimated $18 million to win in a state with just under 1 million people.
While Democrats and Republicans jousted for control of the Senate, there was no doubt that Republicans would continue to control the House.
Democrats would have needed a net gain of 25 seats to recapture control, a tall order, largely because redistricting in several Republican-controlled states helped secure incumbents and created friendlier terrain for Republican challengers.
While control of the House didn’t change, the chamber won’t be the same after Tuesday. The combination of open seats and incumbent losses will bring in another huge freshman class, perhaps larger than the 93-member contingent in 2010. The House also might be more politically polarized next year with the exodus of some of its dwindling collection of moderates in both parties.
Some of the more high-profile House races included nine-term California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren’s bid to beat back a serious challenge by Democrat Ami Bera for a Sacramento-area seat, a contest in which more than $6 million worth of outside money flowed in. Bera Wednesday morning was leading the race by 184 votes.