Republicans captured total control of Congress on Tuesday, riding a wave of voter discontent to take the Senate for the first time in eight years and expand its majority in the House, according to NBC News projections.
The vote will recalibrate the balance of power for President Barack Obama’s final two years in office as attention begins to turn to who will succeed him.
NBC News projections showed Republicans picking up Senate seats held by Democrats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia – one more than the six they needed to take the chamber.
In the House, Republicans were projected to finish the night with an advantage of 246-189, plus or minus six seats, well ahead of their current edge of 233-199.
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky survived a challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes and appeared poised to achieve his dream of becoming majority leader.
“I don’t expect the president to wake up tomorrow and view the world any differently than he did when he woke up this morning. He knows I won’t either,” McConnell said. “But I do think we have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree. I think we have a duty to. Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democrat who will lose his job as majority leader, said in a statement: “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”
Pre-election polls showed a record low level of interest in the election, and those who did show up were not happy. Exit polls showed that 54 percent of voters disapprove of Obama’s performance, and 79 percent gave the thumbs down to Congress.
Only one in three voters in exit polls said the country was on the right track, and one in five said the government in Washington could never be trusted to do what’s right. Two-thirds said the economic system is unfair.
The Republican swing fit a historical pattern: The last three two-term presidents – Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – all served their last two years with the opposing party controlling both houses of Congress.
And the party controlling the White House has lost seats in the House in the midterm election every time but twice since World War II.
In the Senate, Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas was ousted by Rep. Tom Cotton, and Mark Udall of Colorado was bounced by Rep. Cory Gardner. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan lost her seat to Thom Tillis.
Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire held off a furious challenge by ex-Sen. Scott Brown.
Republicans Joni Ernst in Iowa, Steve Daines in Montana, Mike Rounds in South Dakota and Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia all captured seats held by retiring Democrats.
In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a December runoff with Republican Bill Cassidy. In Georgia, Republican David Perdue cleared the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas beat independent Greg Orman, who had refused to say which party he would vote with. For a time, it appeared he alone might determine the Senate majority. It ultimately didn’t matter.
Obama, with a new Congress to deal with, invited leaders of both parties and both chambers to the White House on Friday for a post-election meeting, a White House official told NBC News. The president’s approval rating has bounced around the low 40s all year – 42 percent in the final reading before Election Day.
Almost across the board, Republicans sought to tie their Democratic opponents to the president throughout the campaign. And the president mostly stayed away from states with close races, knowing his presence could hinder vulnerable Democrats seeking to distance themselves from the leader of their party.
The Republican takeover of the Senate will force Obama to use his veto power more often – he has wielded it only twice in six years – and could complicate his efforts to make judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court.
In governor’s races, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate who challenged unions and survived a runoff two years ago, was elected to a second term. Gov. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, survived a close race with Republican-turned-Democratic ex-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Incumbent republican Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania was ousted by Democrat Tom Wolf. In Texas, Republican Greg Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis, who gained national fame last year by filibustering an abortion bill.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, whose deep tax cuts were blamed for creating a big budget deficit and hurting the state economy, was returned to the job, turning back a close challenge from Democrat Paul Davis.
Among ballot initiatives, Arkansas and Nebraska voted to raise the minimum wage in their states. The wage in Arkansas will climb to $8.50 in 2017, and in Nebraska to $9 in 2016. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
Oregon voters approved a measure allowing adults 21 and older to have up to eight ounces of marijuana and up to four plants. Washington state approved background checks for gun purchases, including private sales.
Colorado rejected a constitutional amendment that would have modified the criminal code to include fetuses under the terms “person” and “child” in legal statutes. Opponents had said it could lead to a statewide ban on abortion. Colorado rejected similar measures in 2008 and 2010.
North Dakota said no to a measure that would have provided “the inalienable right to life” for humans at “any stage of development.”
Florida rejected a measure that would have made it the 24th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The constitutional amendment failed to win the 60 percent approval it needed to pass.