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After 8 Years, Republicans Win Control Of U.S. Senate


There is very little upside for Democrats in yesterday's election results. Think about these names...


Wendy Davis was a rising Democratic star who lost the Texas governor's race.

GREENE: Martha Coakley lost a governor's race in deep-blue Massachusetts.

INSKEEP: Senator Mark Udall was part of a rising blue tide in Colorado. He lost.

GREENE: Three Democratic senators survived for years in the changing South until last night when two were defeated and one was forced into a runoff.

INSKEEP: Democrats may still have significant advantages when the presidential campaign approaches in 2016.

GREENE: But a wave of discontent gave the GOP the U.S. Senate and made Mitch McConnell its majority leader. Here's NPR's Ailsa Chang.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The first glimmer of the Republican fortunes that would unfold throughout the night came only minutes after the first polls closed. Republican Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history, had decisively won reelection.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: It's time to turn this country around.

CHANG: The man who had always wanted to become majority leader spoke to supporters within an hour and a half of victory, sounding as if he were already holding the keys to power in the U.S. Senate. He reminded the audience that he and the president would continue to see the world in different ways, but...


MCCONNELL: 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.

CHANG: Within hours, it would be clear that McConnell would become the next Senate majority leader as Republican victories came sweeping in. Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas was one of the first casualties of the night. He lost to freshman House Republican Tom Cotton.


SENATOR MARK PRYOR: I must confess, though - I must confess that I have some sadness tonight. I'll miss waking up every day to go to work for the people of Arkansas.

CHANG: In Colorado, Democratic Senator Mark Udall also met defeat at the hands of a House Republican. Udall had tried to focus his race on abortion rights and contraception. But Congressman Cory Gardner managed to tap into a deep reservoir of discontent in Colorado about the president.


CORY GARDNER: Tonight, we shook up the Senate. You shook up the Senate. Your message was heard from Nevada to Pennsylvania Avenue.


GARDNER: As Republicans in Colorado, we've gotten used to the saying, wait until the next election. Well, I've got news for you. That next election, it finally happened.

CHANG: In one of the biggest upsets of the night, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina also fell despite polls showing her in the lead for months. She was vanquished by the North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who she had tried to defeat by reminding voters of all the cuts to public education the state legislature had made.


SENATOR KAY HAGAN: I will always be grateful for the trust that you placed in me and for the chance to serve our great state. Y'all, it has been fabulous, and what an incredible family, state, staff, supporters we have all across this great, great state.

CHANG: And in Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst swooped in to grab the seat vacated by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Ernst was the candidate who famously told voters she knew how to cut pork after growing up on a farm castrating hogs.


JONI ERNST: Thanks to all of you, we are heading to Washington. And we are going to make them squeal (laughing).

CHANG: In the end, Republicans also clung to two seats many thought had a good chance of turning blue - Kansas and Georgia. Republican businessman David Perdue defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn in a race many thought might drag on into a January runoff in Georgia.


DAVID PERDUE: I think Georgia's made it loud and clear tonight that we want to stop the failed policies of this administration and Harry Reid.

CHANG: One Senate race that will head into a runoff - Louisiana. Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will be facing off with House Republican Bill Cassidy on December 6.


SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: This race is not about who the president is, who the president was or who the president will be - or which party controls Congress. This race is about the future of Louisiana.

CHANG: The future of the Senate, however, was resolved on Tuesday, at least the question of which party will be in control the next two years. President Obama still wields the veto pen during that time, but Republicans are already saying they'll be sending over lots of bills, even if they don't get a signature, just to show the country where they stand. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Louisville, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.