Dems Hold the Senate -- Barely

Despite wins from old-timers -- McCain, DeMint -- and Tea Party newcomers -- Rand, Rubio -- the Democrats clung to their majority in the Senate, and their leader, Harry Reid, held on to his seat.

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Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who held on to his seat Nov. 2. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If the United States is a car broken down on the edge of a highway somewhere, the Senate is its dry, ill-maintained, crapped-out engine. Since the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, our nation's 100-member upper house has been, thanks to a monolithic block of obstructionist Republicans, a largely useless body of angry white men, many of whom have recently taken six-figure salaries in taxpayer money to do little more than sit on their hands and invoke the procedural bane of President Obama's first two years in the Oval Office: the filibuster. And now, with Roland Burris retiring and all three black candidates -- Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), Alvin Greene (D-S.C.) and Mike Thurmond (D-Ga.) -- projected to lose at this writing, there will be no African Americans in the Senate.

On Election Day 2010, Republican hopes were high for a takeover of the House of Representatives. Conventional polling wisdom -- if you can call polling wise -- said the GOP would get anywhere between 50 and 60 House seats and take back the House. And indeed, by 9:15 p.m., CNN had predicted that the Republicans would win a House majority, unofficially dethroning Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had for months been the target of the Republican National Committee's "Fire Pelosi" campaign.

With the hated House speaker now but a former House speaker, all eyes turned to Harry Reid, whipping boy to Pelosi's whipping girl, and the Senate. If the GOP could take the Senate and the House, their dreams of dismantling every progressive bit of Obama's legislation -- health care first! -- would be within reach.

This was not to be.

Though the Republican Senate candidates started out strong, with quick victories from both incumbents (Jim DeMint, John McCain, John Thune) and novices (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio), two major Democratic wins early in the night stymied all dreams of a GOP Congress: Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, who dispatched opponent Linda McMahon (of the pro-wrestling empire).

Later in the night, Republican Ron Johnson would beat incumbent Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, and John Boozman would take Democrat Blanche Lincoln's Arkansas seat. The Associated Press would even call Ohio for Republican Rob Portman with zero percent of the vote counted. But by then it was pretty clear that the Democrats would keep the Senate regardless.

At last check, Nate Silver, The New York Times stats guru, said the GOP had a 2 percent chance of taking over the Senate. If you were a betting Democrat, it was safe for you to go to sleep at this point, unsure as to the fate of the Alaska race, but confident that you wouldn't wake up to an entirely red Capitol Hill.

Very notable is that Republican candidates endorsed by the Tea Party movement tended to do well as long as they weren't too far into the fringes. For instance, Christine O'Donnell and Carl Paladino, each of whom had campaigned from the far right, were both drubbed badly in Delaware and New York, respectively. Sharron Angle fared better in the Nevada senate race, but still could not unseat majority leader Harry Reid.

Perhaps voters intended to send the message that while the Tea Party movement is growing, everyone expects some sanity. Then again, in his victory speech to CNN, Rand Paul offered this bon mot when asked his thoughts on higher taxes for the very rich: "There are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor -- it's all interconnected."

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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