Republicans were last night on course to make major gains and possibly recapture control of the US Senate in mid-term elections that could serve as a public referendum on President Barack Obama’s job performance.
Millions of Americans yesterday cast ballots to elect 36 senators, 36 governors and all 435 members of the House of Representatives in campaigns influenced by Obama’s low job approval rating — 40% — partisan gridlock in Washington and a US economy not growing widely enough to help many in the middle class.
Republicans were expected to pick up seats in the US Senate, but polls show eight to 10 races are still toss-ups and it is unclear whether they can gain the six seats they need to control the 100-member chamber for the first time since the 2006 election.
The battle for control of the Senate also could extend beyond last night. Senate races with multiple candidates in Louisiana and Georgia, where the winner must get more than 50% of the vote, could be forced into runoffs in December and January.
Seizing the Senate would give Republicans, who are expected to build on their majority in the House, complete control of both chambers of Congress.
That would constitute the most dramatic political shift since Obama entered the White House in early 2009 and would complicate his last two years in office.
The White House tried to play down the prospect of sharp changes in strategy by the president after the election. White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that many of the contested Senate races where Democrats were in trouble were in states Obama lost to Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
However, Democrat Senator Mark Udall is in a tight race in the swing state of Colorado, and the fight to replace Democrat Senator Tom Harkin in the swing state of Iowa is a toss-up.
Republicans are in tight races to retain their seats in Georgia, where Senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring, and Kansas, where an independent is challenging Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who polls show has a slight edge over Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes, would replace Democrat Harry Reid as Senate majority leader if Republicans win the Senate and he hangs on for re-election.
Obama will face pressure to make changes at the White House if his party loses the Senate. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 75% believe the administration needs to “rethink” its approach to major issues facing the US. But a White House official doubted there would be a major shakeup. “We’re talking about votes in a bunch of states that didn’t vote for the president,” the official said.
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