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MOMENTUM FAVORS REPUBLICANS

Published Nov. 5, 2014|Updated Nov. 6, 2014

Democrats and President Barack Obama were bracing for a tough night Tuesday - and possible loss of control of the Senate - as angry and dissatisfied voters gave Republicans early key victories in the midterm elections.

The GOP needed to gain six seats in the Senate and were closing in on four by 10 p.m.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who would become the new majority leader if the trend continued, set the pace, easily dispatching Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in a high-profile contest.

That was followed by Republicans picking up seats in West Virginia and South Dakota that were held by retiring Democrats. And the GOP gained a third seat with Tom Cotton defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who was battered over his support for Obama's policies.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen held off Republican Scott Brown, but the climate remained rough for her party.

Republicans took a seat in Montana and were looking strong in Colorado, putting them within grasp of control.

Drama remained in a handful of states, including Iowa and North Carolina. In Louisiana, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was headed to a December runoff with Republican Bill Cassidy - an anticipated outcome that could drag out the balance of power question for weeks.

There was a surprise, too, in Virginia, where Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, was losing to Republican Ed Gillespie.

All 435 House seats were up for election but the only question of the night was how many seats Republicans would add to their solid majority. Fewer than 10 percent of the contests were competitive, including three of Florida's 27 districts.

One bright spot for Democrats came in north Florida, where Democrat Gwen Graham defeated two-term incumbent Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, whom she cast as too conservative for the district. In Miami, though, Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat elected in 2012, was defeated by Republican Carlos Curbelo.

The state's third closely watched race saw Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Vero Beach, beat Republican Carl Domino. Murphy began the year as one of the most vulnerable Democrats but raised a lot of money, cast strategic votes and benefitted from a contest that lacked a big-name GOP candidate. He won easily.

The real action was in the Senate, where Republicans were hoping to regain the majority they lost in the 2006 elections. Ten states were being closely watched: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Forecasts for a GOP takeover of the Senate increased throughout the year, cresting as Obama's popularity sank to new lows. Once a motivational force on the campaign trail, Obama stayed away from hot battlegrounds, where Republicans relentlessly cast incumbent Democrats as a reliable vote for the president's policies. Democrats in turn portrayed the Republicans as extreme, particularly on women's issues.

The Obama problem was stark in Kentucky, where Democrat Grimes infamously refused to say whether she voted for the president. McConnell, the incumbent, was declared the winner immediately after polls closed. He had earlier dispatched a primary challenge from his right, a trend seen across the country as GOP leaders worked to defeat more polarizing, gaffe-prone candidates who proved disastrous in recent elections.

The president's life has been difficult since Republicans took the House in 2010, putting an immediate stop to sweeping legislation such as health care reform and immigration, the latter an issue still unresolved. With GOP control of both chambers, Obama will likely be presented with legislation he'll feel compelled to veto. He would also be forced to rely on executive action as he has done in face of GOP opposition on some issues, including environmental regulation.

Obama is poised to ignite the ire of the right in coming weeks as he moves to take executive action on immigration, possibly expanding a program that has given legal status to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as Dreamers.

But the White House has also signaled he's ready to work on some issues such as tax reform, and Republicans, who must defend more Senate seats in 2016 than Democrats, must show voters they can govern.

The president, for his part, was in spin mode Tuesday, saying the close races were happening in states that favored Republicans. "This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," he said on a Connecticut radio station.

The overall tone of campaigns nationwide was negative, the ads nonstop and overall spending set to hit $4 billion, a midterm record.

"I have gotten calls almost every day," said Justin Callahan, 27, of St. Petersburg. "I've gotten emails from people that I know I've never given my email to."

But many people simply stayed home - an estimated 61 percent of the nation's 223 million eligible voters, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

Just 1 in 5 voters say they trust the government to do what is right most or all of the time, even fewer than in the 1994 midterms when Republicans seized control of the House and Senate, according to a poll conducted for the Associated Press.

About a quarter of voters say they are dissatisfied or angry with both Obama and GOP leaders in Congress. Another six in 10 are unhappy with one or the other of them.

Times staff writer Katie Mettler contributed to this report, which uses information from The Associated Press.

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