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Senate Tea Party leaves Republicans reeling

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Jonathan Weisman, New York

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NEW YORK: Democrats snatched Republican Senate seats in Indiana and Massachusetts and were poised to hold control of the Senate, handing Republicans a string of stinging defeats for the second campaign season in a row.

In Indiana, Joe Donnelly did what had seemed impossible by taking a Senate seat for the Democrats in a deep-red state, just weeks after his Republican opponent, the State treasurer Richard Mourdock, said conception by rape was God's will.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor, swept out Scott Brown, the Republican whose surprise victory in January 2010 heralded the coming of the Tea Party wave.

Beaten ... Mitt Romney supporters react on election night as President Barack Obama swept to re-election.

Beaten ... Mitt Romney supporters react on election night as President Barack Obama swept to re-election. Photo: AFP

Those Democratic triumphs followed wins in Ohio, Connecticut, Florida and Pennsylvania, states where Republicans had hoped victory would propel them to a Senate majority for the first time since 2006.

Republicans lost another state when the former governor Angus King jnr of Maine, an independent, won his race to succeed Olympia Snowe, a moderate who is retiring. Senator-elect King has yet to say which party he will caucus with next year, but he had warned Republicans and Democrats that his treatment during the campaign would bear on that decision. Republicans responded by pummeling him with negative advertisements.

In New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, cruised to re-election. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez was also easily re-elected. ''We said we'd defend all of our seats and would put half of their seats in play,'' said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who took that job last year when others had refused it.

The results suggested that for the second consecutive election cycle, Republicans' high hopes for a takeover of the Senate were dashed in large part by their own candidates. In 2010 and 2012, the disappointment could be laid at the feet of a very conservative Republican primary electorate that was determined to sweep out the party's moderates.

Democrats started the cycle with 23 seats to defend and the Republicans 10, an imbalance produced by the Democratic sweep of 2006. With only a three-seat majority for the Democrats, including two independents who caucused with them, holding on to control of the chamber seemed like an impossible task.

To defend some of the seats in heavily Republican states where Democrats were retiring, the party recruited talented candidates like Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota secretary of state. They also pulled in strong candidates in Arizona, Indiana and Massachusetts, forcing the Republican Party to defend seats across a broader map.

The Tea Party wave that began in 2010 kept rolling early this year, threatening the Republicans' chances for a majority. In 2010, primary voters in Colorado, Delaware and Nevada selected Tea Party-backed conservatives, who may have wrecked the party's hopes. This time, conservatives defeated Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican veteran expected to walk to re-election. Instead, they nominated the far more conservative Mr Mourdock, turning the general election into a fight.

Republican primary voters in Missouri chose Todd Akin, the most conservative candidate, to challenge Claire McCaskill, only to see his candidacy founder on his comment that women do not get pregnant from ''legitimate rape''.

When she retired, Senator Snowe made it clear her moderate stands were increasingly untenable in a Republican Party that had shifted so far to the right. ''She just had enough,'' said Michael Castle, a moderate former congressman from Delaware who was expected to win a Senate seat for Republicans in 2010 only to lose in the primary to the Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell.

''The Republican Party needs to be more understanding about what can fit into the different pockets of a diverse country,'' Castle said.

The New York Times

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