WASHINGTON – Republicans grabbed the keys from Sen. Harry Reid on Tuesday as they swept into control of the U.S. Senate.
Two years ago, Reid, the majority leader from Nevada, and other top Democrats celebrated before a boisterous crowd at a Capitol Hill hotel on their way to expanding their majority to 55 seats against 45 for Republicans.
Democrats did not schedule a public gathering on Tuesday. Rather, Reid huddled behind closed doors at Senate Democratic headquarters with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, his deputy and top strategist, receiving reports from states where Democrats were engaged in their toughest fights.
Republicans made big gains in the Senate. They were projected to win at least seven seats and potentially as many as nine in a year where voters were disenchanted with President Barack Obama and concerned about the economy.
When all the votes are counted, Republicans could have a majority of between two and four seats.
When the networks confirmed the GOP Senate takeover, a shout of “No More Harry Reid!” went up at the party thrown by Nevada Republicans at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas
“It is going to be the best case scenario for the Republicans,” said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “All the close races broke for the Republicans and even the close races the Democrats hoped to win didn’t come through.”
There were 36 seats up for election — 21 held by Democrats and 15 by Republicans. But most of the focus was on a dozen or so, including posts held by Democrats in states that voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney two years ago
The GOP victories will make Sen. Mitch McConnell, who won re-election in Kentucky, the new majority leader when the Senate convenes in January for the 115th Congress.
“The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together,” Reid said in a statement late Tuesday. “I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”
The election knocked Reid, 74, into the minority after he has served six years as Senate leader, and raised a host of questions as to his future and his ability to use his clout on behalf of Nevada.
Reid has signaled he intends to lead the Democrats even as are pushed into the minority. He also has said he intends to run for re-election in 2016, and has raised $3.5 million so far.
Conversely, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., would become part of a majority in Congress for the first time since he was elected in 2006.
Heller spent more than $400,000 from his personal political action committee to support fellow Republicans. Heller, who has served three years in the Senate, is eyeing a run for a slot in the Republican leadership as chairman of the party’s Senate campaign committee.
Republicans picked up seats held by Democrats in West Virginia, Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota, North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado. They also were expected to contest the Democratic seat in Alaska, and were mounting a surprise challenge against Democratic incumbent Mark Warner in Virginia.
Also, incumbent Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu was forced into a runoff when neither she nor GOP challenger Bill Cassidy, a House member, were projected to capture 50 percent in a three-way race. That special election will be held Dec. 6.
Virtually the only good news for Democrats came when incumbent Jeanne Shaheen was projected to win re-election in New Hampshire over Republican Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts who moved to New Hampshire after losing re-election two years ago in the Bay State.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.