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Republicans wrest control of United States Senate from Democrats

SenateKentuckyMcConnellJPEG0ab99
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky.,Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. McConnell won a sixth term in Washington, with his eyes on the larger prize of GOP control of the Senate. The Kentucky Senate race, with McConnell, a 30-year incumbent, fighting off a spirited challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been among the most combative and closely watched contests that could determine the balance of power in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in eight years, starting with a win Tuesday in West Virginia where Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito emerged the predictable victor.

The GOP’s deciding race was in Iowa, where Joni Ernst defeated Bruce Braley. Then in North Carolina, Tom Tillis ousted Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. The party picked up at least seven seats to gain a majority and more power in the final two years of President Obama’s administration, and expanded its control of the U.S. House.

Republicans toppled Senate Democrats in Arkansas, Colorado and Montana and replaced retiring Democrats in three states, including West Virginia’s Sen. Jay Rockefeller. The Louisiana race, headed to a runoff, remained a possible flip, along with Iowa and Alaska.

Nebraska was the seventh victory for the GOP, making a 52-45 split with three races undecided.

The partisan divide between Capitol Hill and the White House could widen with both chambers under Republican control, said Mark J. Rozell, acting dean and professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

“Control of Congress swings back and forth, and we’ve had a sequence of two-term presidents who have seen their power seriously wane toward the end of their second terms,” Rozell said. “Whatever the outcome of election cycles these days, it is hard to conclude that there is a popular mandate for anyone to do anything.”

Of 36 Senate races on the ballot, fewer than a dozen drew most of the attention — and hundreds of millions of dollars in attack ads.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who would control the agenda with party majority, held off Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to win Kentucky’s $78 million, hotly contested race for his sixth term in Washington.

In a surprisingly tight race in Virginia, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie was in a dead heat with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

Capito, 60, led comfortably in polls for months and trounced West Virginia’s Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat.

A moderate Republican, Capito portrayed her election as a referendum on Obama, who lost every West Virginia county in 2012. Many of the state’s residents sharply oppose his push to curb the use of coal in power plants.

“We were one of the first states to send a message to President Obama tonight that his policies were on the ballot today,” she said at an election-night celebration.

Capito, a seven-term congresswoman and the daughter of former Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., will become the state’s first Republican senator in nearly 56 years.

“We need to shake the current system up; it’s not working. I’d say the same thing if the Republicans weren’t doing their job,” said Dave Flannery, 67, a Charleston Democrat who attended Capito’s victory party.

The GOP gained its second key seat in Arkansas when freshman Rep. Tom Cotton defeated two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor after a heated and expensive race.

The party’s third pickup was South Dakota, where Republican Mike Rounds appeared to win a retiring Democrat’s seat. Then Republican Steve Daines won in Montana, where a Democrat retired, and GOP Rep. Corey Gardner ousted first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado.

In Georgia, Republican businessman David Perdue appeared to win a tight race with Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, for a seat held by a retiring Republican.

In Louisiana, neither Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu nor Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy topped 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race and were headed to a Dec. 6 runoff.

Among Democrat incumbents, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won a second term in New Hampshire, beating former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown in a key race. Democrat Mark Begich faced a tough challenge in Alaska.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts survived fierce opposition by independent Greg Orman in Kansas.

Salena Zito and Tom Fontaine are Trib Total Media staff writers. The Associated Press contributed.

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