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Republicans Take Control Of U.S. Senate With N.C. Win


Here's what we know for certain on this morning after the election - Republicans will take control of the Senate. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky becomes majority leader.


The GOP majority will now hold power over President Obama's nominees for cabinet secretaries and the federal bench. Senate Republicans will also be able to join House Republicans in putting pressure on the president.

INSKEEP: Democratic incumbents lost in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina. Retiring Democrats in other states will be replaced by Republicans.

GREENE: The results in Louisiana won't be known until a runoff in December, but Democrats also missed chances to pick up seats. Let's begin our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The man who will become the new Senate majority leader won his race early. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who was the least popular Senate incumbent up for reelection this year, easily beat his challenger, Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes. In his victory speech, McConnell said the American people are hungry for new leadership.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: So tonight I pledge you this - whether you're a coal miner in eastern Kentucky who can't find work, or a mom in Paducah who doesn't understand why the government just took away her family's health insurance, I've heard your concerns. I've made them my own. You will be heard in Washington.


LIASSON: The next Democratic Senate seat to turn red was West Virginia. Jay Rockefeller's retirement after 30 years in the Senate created a vacancy and a vulnerability for his party. Republican Shelley Moore Capito won his seat.


SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: For the first time in the history of West Virginia, we are sending a woman to the United States Senate.


LIASSON: President Obama, in an interview with radio station WNPR in Connecticut, explained the results by pointing to the Senate map filled with red states won by Mitt Romney.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.

LIASSON: But it was more than just the map. President Obama himself was one of the biggest issues in the campaign, and in state after state, Republicans made the election a referendum on President Obama. His low popularity was an anchor dragging down Democrats. In Kentucky, Bill Redmond said he was voting against the president.

BILL REDMOND: Too much Obama. I don't like Obama. I don't make any qualms about that, never have, never will.

LIASSON: Democrats tried to do what they had done successfully in the last two election cycles - paint Republicans as too extreme. In Iowa, Democratic voter Dave Levey said that's why he was voting against Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst.

DAVE LEVEY: I think Joni Ernst is just dangerous. I think she's so extreme. I just don't think she's representative of the state at all.

LIASSON: But it didn't work. Ernst won the open seat of retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin for another Republican pickup. Here's Ernst declaring victory.


JONI ERNST: This is the greatest nation in the history of mankind.


ERNST: And there is nothing we can't achieve, but to get there, it starts with new leadership.

LIASSON: In North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Udall. North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado will all be battleground states in the next presidential election. Democrats did manage to hang on in New Hampshire, one of the few bright spots for Democrats last night. Republican Scott Brown was defeated by incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.


SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: I promise you I will work with anyone in the Senate - Democrat, Republican, Independent - to get things done to help New Hampshire's working families and our small businesses.


LIASSON: Last night Democrats not only lost the Senate, but they also lost badly in races for governor, losing in blue states like Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois. Republicans did better at turning out their coalition - older, whiter, more rural voters. But they also did well with Independents and slightly better with some parts of the Democratic coalition, says Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: The early exits have currently showed young voters breaking 13 points for the Democrats. Now, that's significantly better for Republicans than what we've seen in presidential years. The youth vote that turns out in these midterms is leaning slightly more Republican than their counterparts.

LIASSON: Republicans won the Senate because they fielded strong general election candidates. The Republican establishment had intervened in primaries to prevent Tea Party candidates from winning any nominations in battleground states. Many Republican candidates also moved to the center on issues like women's rights and the minimum wage, but Republicans did not campaign on an affirmative agenda. Now, says former Republican Congressman Tom Davis, the GOP has to prove they can govern, especially if they want to win the White House in two years.

TOM DAVIS: They're going to have control of the Senate and the House. And they're going to have to put some work products forward. The president can veto them, but they can't fight among themselves over issues like the debt ceiling, budgets and appropriation bills because presidential elections, unlike midterms, are all about the future. And if the Republicans show themselves unable to govern, I think it's going to haunt whoever their candidate is next time. On the other hand, if they put forward something, I think they're in the game.

LIASSON: Exit polls showed voters angry about the direction of the country and frustrated with Washington's inability to solve problems. And voters told pollsters this time they hope their candidates compromise when they get to Washington. The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, seems to have heard that message.


MCCONNELL: I don't expect the president to wake up tomorrow and view the world any differently than he did when he woke up this morning. He knows I won't either.


MCCONNELL: But, look, we do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree. I think we have a duty to do that. Just because we have a two-party system doesn't mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.

LIASSON: President Obama has invited the bicameral, bipartisan leadership to the White House on Friday. The meeting will be the first attempt to see if the newly elected, divided government can find a way to break the gridlock. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.