Democrats maintain control of Senate and Republicans retain control of House

Democratic+U.S.+Senate+incumbent+candidate+Claire+McCaskill+gives+her+victory+speech+at+her+election+watch+party+at+the+Chase+Park+Plaza+Hotel+in+St.+Louis%2C+Missouri+on+Tuesday%2C+November+6%2C+2012.+Photo+courtesy+of+MCT+Campus.

Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent candidate Claire McCaskill gives her victory speech at her election watch party at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Donna Cassata, Paul Kane

?Donna Cassata, Associated Press?

Paul Kane, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats won a narrow majority in the Senate Tuesday, while Republicans won enough crucial races to retain control of the House of Representatives.

The Senate snatched Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia, Ohio and Connecticut to maintain the control they’ve held since 2007.

The House of Representatives beat a strong Democratic challenge and allowed the GOP to keep pushing an agenda of fiscal austerity.

With almost two-thirds of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 209 seats and were leading in 28 more.

A party needs 218 seats to control the House. It seemed likely the party mix in the new House would resemble the current one, which Republicans control 242-193, including two GOP and three Democratic vacancies. The pickups were so evenly divided that it was unclear if either party would add to its numbers overall.

Democrats had taken 155 districts and led in 39 others.

Many House incumbents survived because of a redistricting process that left a record-low number of competitive seats, cloistering Republicans and Democrats together into geographically odd — but politically homogenous — districts. In Florida, where population growth boosted the delegation to 27 seats, only six races were considered competitive entering Election Day.

With a third of the Senate up for election, Republicans were undone by candidate stumbles, with GOP hopefuls in Missouri and Indiana uttering clumsy statements about rape and abortion that did severe damage to their chances and the party’s hopes of taking over.

Senate Democrats held open seats in Virginia and were leading in New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin shortly before midnight. Republicans took the Nebraska seat as GOP candidate Deb Fischer denied former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s bid to return to the Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke of conciliation.

“Now that the election is over, it’s time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions,” Reid said in a statement. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now they are looking to us for solutions.”

Democrats currently hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, including the two independents who caucus with them. Republicans needed a net gain of four seats to grab the majority. Shortly, after 11 p.m., Democrats gained a lock on 50 seats, enough to keep control once President Barack Obama won re-election.

Money played a major role in both Senate and House campaigns. The caustic campaign for control of the Senate in a divided Congress was marked by endless negative ads and more than $1 billion in spending by outside groups on races from Virginia to Montana, Florida to New Mexico. The outcome in Ohio and Virginia was closely linked to the presidential race. Republicans and Democrats in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Montana hoped that energetic campaigns and personality would lead to ticket-splitting by voters.

Although House Democrats, who needed a net gain of 25 seats to reclaim the majority, spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking the “tea party Congress,” early returns showed they were not making enough inroads in the eastern half of the nation to make up that ground.

After casting his ballot in the Southwestern Ohio district he has represented for 22 years, Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, vowed to continue the conservative track that House Republicans have taken the past two years, arguing the results validated their approach.

“For two years, our majority in the House has been the primary line of defense for the American people against a government that spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much … The American people want solutions — and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our majority,” Boehner said in a victory address in Washington.