After the midterm elections of 2010, in which the Republican Party rode a wave of Tea Party fury to gain control of the House, it appeared that the Senate would be the next legislative chamber to fall to the GOP. After all, only 10 Republicans had to defend their seats in the 2012 elections, compared with 23 for Democrats, giving the GOP a very good chance to make a net gain of four seats for a majority. However, at the end of Election Day 2012, the Democrats are assured of retaining control of the Senate — and there is even a distinct possibility that they will expand their majority.
What happened? Really dumb comments about rape, for one. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a Tea Party conservative who became infamous for his comments about "legitimate rape," lost to Sen. Claire McCaskill, who had once been viewed as the single most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate. Richard Mourdock of Indiana, another Tea Party conservative, lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly after Mourdock said God "intended" pregnancies resulting from rape to happen. To add insult to injury, both Missouri and Indiana were easily won by Mitt Romney in the presidential race. And the Indiana seat had long been held by moderate Republican Richard Lugar before Mourdock swept him out of power in a Republican primary.
The obvious lesson for the GOP would seem to be of the danger inherent in nominating ultraconservative candidates to run for statewide office, particularly if they're incapable of expressing their views on abortion in ways that are palatable to the general-election voter. The party's dwindling moderate faction hurt it in Maine, too, where the seat vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, was handily won by former Gov. Angus King, an independent who is expected to caucus with the Democrats.
More Republicans lost close races, too. Democrat Tim Kaine, the former governor of Virginia, won a close Senate race against Republican George Allen, also a former governor. Elizabeth Warren, a hero on the left, defeated GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, reclaiming the seat long held by liberal stalwart Ted Kennedy. Warren's victory could be chalked up to the fact that Brown's election was an aberration in deep-blue Massachusetts, and she was no doubt helped by having President Obama at the top of the ticket. Kaine was seen as the more likable candidate in Virginia, evidence that Allen's image hasn't fully recovered from racially tinged comments he made in his 2006 run for the Senate.
As this story was published, Democratic candidates had won 53 seats to the GOP's 44, and were leading tight races in Montana, North Dakota, and Nevada. Analysts expect Democrats to prevail in at least one or two of those races. All things considered, it was a very good night for Democrats in the Senate.