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Sunday, December 4, 2016

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate Tuesday, mobilizing voter discontent with President Barack Obama across the country and setting up partisan economic and foreign policy showdowns over the final two years of his presidency.

The Republican Party will control both houses of Congress for the first time in eight years. It will be the first time since Obama took office that he will not have a friendly Senate and the first time he’s faced an entire Congress under opposition control.

Leading the Senate will be Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who successfully crushed Democrats’ expensive bid to oust him. In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio could lead the biggest Republican bloc in 65 years.

The two leaders vowed Tuesday to push the Republican agenda quickly and aggressively when the new Congress convenes in January.

“Tonight, Kentuckians said we can do better as a nation,” McConnell said in his victory speech in Louisville. “Tonight, they said we can have real change in Washington. Real change, and that’s just what I intend to deliver.”

Boehner, who has watched Republican bill after bill die for years in the Democratic-led Senate, pledged votes on “commonsense jobs and energy bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support but were never even brought to a vote by the outgoing Senate majority.”

Senate Democrats tried to be conciliatory. “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Maybe. Voters from coast to coast signaled Tuesday they’re eager for Republicans to act. The party won Democratic-held Senate seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, assuring them of majority control of the Senate for the first time since January 2007. Among the Democratic losses were incumbent senators in Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina.

Other possible Republican pickups loomed in Alaska and in a December runoff election in Louisiana.

Democratic efforts to offset the Republican momentum with gains of their own failed.

In Kentucky, McConnell easily beat Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Democrats had hopes for a Republican seat in Georgia, but Michelle Nunn fell to Republican businessman David Perdue. And in Kansas, Democrats appeared to be counting on Greg Orman, running as an independent against Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican. Vice President Joe Biden earlier Tuesday called Orman “an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas.” It wasn’t enough. Roberts held the seat.

Democrats did hold New Hampshire, where Sen. Jeanne Shaheen turned back a strong challenge from former Sen. Scott Brown. And they stopped the Republicans, at least for now, in Louisiana. Since no one got a majority, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will face Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in a runoff next month.

Democrats were defending 21 Senate seats to the Republicans’ 15. Seven of the Democratic seats were in states that went for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 against Obama. Five elected Republicans, all in states where Obama’s approval rating sank and Democrats tried to put distance between themselves and the president.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito will become West Virginia’s first female senator. Other winners included Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Rep. Steve Daines in Montana, House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina and former Gov. Mike Rounds in South Dakota.

“This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower,” Obama said Tuesday on WNPR in Connecticut.

In House races, two Democratic incumbents fell: Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida. Rahall, first elected to the House in 1976, was the victim of a GOP surge in a state that’s trended increasingly Republican.

A look at key Senate races:

–Alaska. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, is behind in polls but has a ground game that’s a proven success. His race with Republican Dan Sullivan is likely to be close and perhaps not decided for days.

–Arkansas. Cotton defeated Sen. Mark Pryor, the Democrat. Pyor lost after being hammered for supporting Obama on nine of ten key votes last year, a liability in a state where the president’s approval ratings have hovered around 30 percent in recent polls.

–Colorado. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, thought he could tar Republican Rep. Cory Gardner as a doctrinaire conservative with little regard for women’s rights. That strategy backfired as the affable Gardner retained a sizable following among women.

–Georgia. Perdue won the Republican nomination campaigning as an outsider who would shake up Washington, but Nunn gained by questioning his business record. Democrats had at least hoped no one would get a majority and the race would go to a Jan. 6 runoff. Instead, Perdue got enough to win outright. He’ll succeed Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

–Iowa. Republican Joni Ernst, a state senator, vaulted to prominence earlier this year with her down-to-earth pitch as a mother, soldier and independent. She defeated Democrat Bruce Braley to take the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat.

–Kansas. The streak continues: No Republican has lost a Kansas Senate campaign since 1932, and though Roberts was seen as out of touch with the state, he was able to overcome the Orman challenge. Roberts worked to define Orman as untested and a closet Democrat, and conservatives who had challenged Roberts rallied at the end to support him.

–Kentucky. McConnell easily topped Democrat Grimes. Democrats once had big hopes of gaining a seat here, but McConnell slammed Grimes as a supporter of Obama policies, which are not popular in the state. Grimes tried hard to separate herself, but among her stumbles was her refusal last month to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012.

–Louisiana. Landrieu faces a Dec. 6 runoff. Two conservatives, Cassidy and Rob Maness, were splitting the anti-Landrieu vote in a state where Obama is deeply unpopular. Cassidy is the likely favorite in the runoff.

–Montana. Republican Daines won the Senate seat easily. Any prospect of a competitive race evaporated when incumbent Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat, dropped out this summer after facing plagiarism allegations. Daines wound up with an easy path to victory.

–New Hampshire. Brown, easily defeated in his 2012 re-election bid in Massachusetts, moved to his vacation home in New Hampshire. He was called a carpetbagger, a label he couldn’t escape.

–North Carolina. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan lost to Tillis. The race was nasty and costly _ the campaigns aired more than 100,000 ads, according to The Charlotte Observer.

–South Dakota. Rounds won a three-way battle to succeed Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat. Independent Larry Pressler, a Republican South Dakota senator from 1979 to 1997, made some inroads but faded

–West Virginia. Republican Capito won election as the state’s first woman senator, defeating Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in a race that was never considered close.

Photo: Supporters of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts cheer before he takes the stage at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan., on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT)