WASHINGTON - Democrats won a narrow majority in the Senate on Tuesday, snatching Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia and Ohio to maintain the control they have held since 2007.
With a third of the Senate up for election, Republicans were undone by candidate stumbles. GOP candidates in Missouri and Indiana made clumsy statements about rape and abortion that did severe damage to the party's hopes of taking over.
Democrats held an open seat in Virginia. Republicans took an open Nebraska seat as GOP candidate Deb Fischer denied former Sen. Bob Kerrey's bid to return to the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) spoke of conciliation.
"Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions," Reid said. "The strategy of obstruction, gridlock, and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now they are looking to us for solutions."
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly edged out tea party-backed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock in a race rocked by the Republican candidate's awkward remark that pregnancy resulting from rape is "something God intended."
In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren knocked out Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who had stunned the political world in January 2010 when he won the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat. The strong Democratic tilt in the state helped the consumer advocate in her bid.
The race was one of the most expensive in the country - $68 million - even though both candidates agreed to bar outside spending.
In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill was considered the most vulnerable incumbent, but Republican Rep. Todd Akin severely damaged his candidacy in August when he said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in instances of "legitimate rape." GOP leaders, including Romney, called on him to abandon the race. Akin stayed in.
In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine edged out Republican George Allen in a battle of former governors. The contest attracted millions of dollars in outside spending.
Democrats currently hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, including the two independents who caucus with them. Republicans needed a net gain of four seats to grab the majority. Shortly, after 11 p.m., Democrats gained a lock on 50 seats, enough to keep control once Obama won reelection.
The caustic campaign for control of the Senate in a divided Congress was marked by endless negative ads and more than $1 billion in spending by outside groups on races from Virginia to Montana, Florida to New Mexico.
In Maine, independent Angus King prevailed over Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill in the race to replace Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who blamed partisan gridlock in Washington for her unexpected decision to retire after 18 years in the Senate.
In Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown survived an onslaught of about $30 million in outside spending to defeat State Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy won the Connecticut Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent who was the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 2000. Murphy's win marked the second straight defeat for former wrestling executive Linda McMahon.
Texas sent tea party-backed Ted Cruz to the Senate as the Republican won the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Cruz will become the third Hispanic in the Senate, joining Sens. Bob Menendez, (D., N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).
Democrat Martin Heinrich won a Senate seat in New Mexico, and Democrat Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders won a second term in Vermont.