WASHINGTON — Democrats lost Senate seats in at least five states Tuesday, but were guaranteed to keep the majority thanks to wins in California and West Virginia.
Republicans scored big wins, taking Senate seats from Democrats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas, North Dakota and Indiana. The net gain of 10 they needed for control of the chamber, however, eluded them.
With Republicans taking over the House, President Barack Obama will need a Democratic-run Senate to champion his legislative agenda.
Veteran Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas lost their re-election bids.
But West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin held off millionaire Republican John Raese to keep a Democrat in the seat held for half a century by the late Robert C. Byrd. And Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., won a fourth term despite a spirited challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.
Those victories left Republicans no way to take the majority. They possibly could achieve a 50-50 split. But Vice President Joe Biden, the Senate's official president, would break ties in the Democrats' favor.
Tea party champions won high-profile races in Florida and Kentucky, spearheading a likely cadre of libertarian-leaning Republicans who will press party leaders to be more adamant about lower taxes, less spending and smaller government.
Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida rocked the GOP establishment last spring by routing leadership favorites in party primaries.
In Utah, tea party-backed Mike Lee also won easily after snatching the Republican nomination from Sen. Bob Bennett in March.
Feingold, a three-term Democrat, lost to GOP newcomer Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Best known for efforts to tighten campaign finance laws, Feingold was the only senator to vote against the so-called Patriot Act passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, calling it a dangerous infringement on civil liberties.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln fell to GOP Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas, where Obama lost by 20 percentage points two years ago.
Christine O'Donnell, another tea party darling, lost to Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. She also had won a stunning GOP primary victory, beating longtime Rep. Mike Castle, who was expected to top Coons. But she raised eyebrows with curious comments about witchcraft, the First Amendment and other topics, and failed to extend her popularity to the broader November electorate.