Veteran Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas lost his seat Tuesday to a freshman House Republican, putting the GOP a step closer to its goal of controlling the Senate for the first time in eight years.
Rep. Tom Cotton’s win brightened an already happy night for Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who won a sixth term of his own and was poised to become the Senate majority leader if his party could gain six new seats overall.
Cotton, an Iraq combat veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, joined virtually every other Republican nationwide in relentlessly linking his opponent to President Obama, whose popularity has sagged.
Cotton claimed one of the six pickups the GOP needs. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia grabbed another, and former Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota claimed a third. As expected, Capito won the seat of retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and Rounds will succeed retiring Sen. Tim Johnson. Republicans also expected to win an open Democratic-held seat in Montana.
As Republicans awaited results elsewhere, they celebrated Sen. Tim Scott becoming the first black elected to the Senate from a former Confederate state since Reconstruction. He was appointed to the Senate last year, and won a term of his own Tuesday.
Pryor, the last Democrat in Arkansas’ congressional delegation, is the son of a popular former governor and senator. But Arkansas and West Virginia have been trending sharply Republican. Obama lost Arkansas by 24 percentage points in 2012.
In Kentucky, Democrats once had high hopes for challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state’s young secretary of state. But the hill was too steep in a state Obama lost by 23 percentage points in 2012.
McConnell’s allies taunted Grimes for refusing to say whether she had voted for Obama.
If he became majority leader, McConnell, 72, would have substantial powers to decide what legislation reaches the floor for votes, and when.
Democrats privately said they hoped to limit their net Senate losses to five seats, which would barely keep them in control. But even that would require them to win several races Tuesday where they were struggling.