Democrats have just won their first official Senate pickup of the night, with Rep. Tammy Duckworth easily defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois.
The race was called by various media outlets as soon as the polls closed, based on the preliminary exit poll suggesting that Duckworth could potentially take 58 percent of the vote.
Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran, who lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down by an insurgent rocket.
Kirk, who is considered to be a socially moderate Republican, was narrowly elected in the 2010 midterm Republican wave, picking up the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama. He was widely viewed as the underdog this year, with this race seen as the single most obvious potential gain for Democrats.
Kirk made headlines in the final weeks of the campaign, however, when he lobbed a racially-charged attack at Duckworth during a debate. Duckworth, who was born in Thailand to an ethnic Chinese mother and a white American father, stated that she was a "Daughter of the American Revolution," with her family having served in the U.S. military for wars throughout history. Kirk then responded: "I had forgotten your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."
Duckworth then responded: "There's been members of my family serving on my father's side since the American Revolution… I'm proud of both my father's side and my mother, who's an immigrant." Eric Kleefeld