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Last Senate Race Finally Called for Democrats, Widening Their Lead

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Nov-2012
Updated: 08-Nov-2012 08:23 AM

Although a few House contests remain too close to call, the Presidency and now all of the Senate races have been decided.  The last hold out for the Senate was the race in North Dakota, but the Republican candidate has finally conceded.

It was not that long ago that pundits were predicting that Democrats might lose control of the Senate.   More recently, conventional wisdom was that they might retain a razor-thin edge, but at the end of the day they actually picked up two seats.   In the upcoming 113th Congress, the Senate will have 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 2 Independents.   One of the independents, Bernie Sanders (VT), already caucuses with the Democrats and his new Independent colleague -- Angus King (ME) -- is expected to, although he has not made that statement yet.

If he does, that gives Democrats essentially a 55-45 lead.   Currently, there are 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and 2 Independents (one of whom, Joe Lieberman (CT), is retiring this year).

The Democratic gains in the Senate have surprised just about everyone.   Washington political observers are busy analyzing why it happened.   In North Dakota, the incumbent (Kent Conrad-D) retired, so it was an open race between Heidi Heitkamp (D) and Rick Berg (R).   The race was close, with Heitkamp getting 50.5 percent versus Berg's 49.5 percent and a recount was a possibility, but Berg conceded earlier today.  Mitt Romney won the presidential contest in North Dakota by 20 points (58.7 percent to Obama's 38.9 percent), but political observers pointed to Heitkamp's positioning herself as a moderate who distanced herself from President Obama's energy policies as a factor in her success.

Heitkamp will be the first woman Senator from North Dakota, part of a record number of women -- 20 -- who will serve in the Senate beginning in January.

In the House, Politco shows the breakdown in the 113th Congress will be 233 Republicans and 193 Democrats, but it also shows that the Democrats gained 7 seats and the Republicans lost 2.  The composition today is 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats, so that math does not work.  Some races are still too close to call, but it is clear the Republicans remain in the majority.

What all of this means for governance of the nation remains to be seen.  At a top level, it is the status quo -- Democrats control the White House and Senate, while Republicans control the House.   But the Democratic margin in the Senate is greater, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) already announced today that he will pursue filibuster reform in the next Congress, saying that he thinks the rules have been "abused" and will try to change them "so we can get things done."  

Across Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner said today that House Republicans are "willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions" in order to get bipartisan agreement on solving the nation's financial woes.  For the past two years, House Republicans have been unwilling to accept any revenue increases as part of a deficit reduction deal.

It is far too early to forecast how all of this will play out in the lame duck session of the 112th Congress much less the 113th Congress.    There are no magic solutions, and the devil is always in the details when crafting political compromises.


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