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Election 2014 live blog: Colorado puts GOP on brink of Senate takeover (+video)

Republicans are having an even better night than anticipated. With the Colorado Senate race going to Republican Cory Gardner, a GOP Senate takeover looks virtually certain.

11:07 p.m. Eastern time | Colorado puts Republicans on the doorstep

With Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall’s projected loss in Colorado, the GOP’s night shifted from promising to an all-but-certain takeover of the US Senate, perhaps emphatically.

It’s the fifth Senate seat Republicans have picked up this evening, leaving them just one more that they need to ensure control in the Senate. Options for that sixth seat include Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, Virginia, and North Carolina – and Republicans could get several of these. (Meanwhile, media sources are projecting Republicans to hold onto seats in Georgia and Kansas.)

Recommended: Who wins Senate in Election 2014? 3 reasons it could be mystery for weeks.

Colorado has been always been a key state for both parties, and despite polls shifting toward Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in recent weeks, Democrats were holding out hope that a strong ground game and an appeal to women could help Senator Udall eke out a victory.

But in a tough year for Democratic incumbents, the backlash President Obama seemed to prevail even in a state that normally tilts slightly blue, like Colorado.

Some pundits have also questioned Udall’s campaign strategy of focusing almost exclusively on reproductive rights in an effort to appeal to women. And Republicans benefited from a more appealing and less polarizing candidate than they opted for in the state’s last Senate election.

Still, in a night that is looking even better for Republicans than they had hoped – including a far-closer-than-expected Senate race in Virginia – the biggest factor is likely a wave of anti-Obama sentiment that seems to be carrying across multiple states.

– Amanda Paulson

10:05 p.m. Eastern time | New Hampshire Democrat stops Republican wave

It's half time on election night, and boy, Democrats are thanking their stars for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. There are so many twists and turns in real time election coverage that many, many things are still in play, but at this moment, Senator Shaheen is the single Democratic bright spot. 

Major media outlets have called New Hampshire for Shaheen, though Republican challenger Scott Brown appeared to make the race closer than many expected. That, however, comes as the current vote count has Republican Thom Tillis ahead in North Carolina, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) ahead in Kansas, and, astonishingly, Republican Ed Gillespie holding on to a whisper-thin lead in Virginia. Meanwhile, forecasters are projecting that Louisiana will go to a runoff, which is thought to favor Republican challenger Bill Cassidy over incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D).

It's still possible – perhaps even probable – that the Democrats will pull out Virginia and North Carolina will go blue. But having New Hampshire in their pocket gives Democrats at least one bulwark against the GOP wave, and the hope that other purple states like Colorado and Iowa might stay blue. Updates in a few minutes with poll closings in Iowa.

– Mark Sappenfield

9:05 p.m. Eastern time | GOP's Tom Cotton ousts two-term Sen. Mark Pryor

Republican Rep. Tom Cotton – Army officer, Iraq vet, Harvard Law School graduate – can now add “US senator” to his résumé. He toppled Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor in a race that symbolizes the transformation of Arkansas into a solid red state.

Representative Cotton was a stiff campaigner in the beginning, but his campaign righted itself (so to speak) in mid-summer and he pulled ahead with a small lead in the poll averages that he kept right up to the end. Senator Pryor was a two-term incumbent and scion of a famous state political family, but neither that nor his ads touting Obamacare could save him. Arkansas is far more GOP-oriented than it was when a young Bill Clinton was elected state attorney general in 1976, or when Pryor’s dad, David, won a Senate seat in 1978.

President Obama’s approval rating in Arkansas is only 29 percent, according to Gallup, substantially lower than his national average. That figure foretold Pryor’s defeat. It will be interesting to see how Cotton fits in with Senate Republicans, given that he has both tea party and establishment connections.

– Peter Grier

8:45 p.m. Eastern time | Pennsylvania's 'eight-year rule' ends

Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett lost his reelection bid to Tom Wolf, making Governor Corbett the first Pennsylvania governor to lose a reelection bid since the state constitution was changed 60 years ago to allow for second terms.

“This ends Pennsylvania’s infamous eight-year rule, in which the governorship has changed hands every eight years since the end of World War II,” Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College, told NPR.

Pennsylvania was one of several states expected to shift to a Democratic governor Tuesday. Polls have been showing gubernatorial races to be much more favorable to Democrats than Senate races are. Most of the key races – including Florida, Connecticut, Maine, Colorado, Alaska, Illinois, and Kansas – haven’t been called yet.

– Amanda Paulson

8:25 p.m. Eastern time | Tim Scott wins historic election

Republican Sen. Tim Scott winning his election in South Carolina isn’t a surprise. But even so, it’s an important historical moment.

Senator Scott, who was appointed to the Senate a year ago when Sen. Jim DeMint retired, became the first ever black senator elected by popular vote in the South. He’s also only the fifth African-American elected ever.

Republicans have been trying hard to change their image as an all-white party. Expect them to tout Scott’s historic status.

– Amanda Paulson

7:21 p.m. Eastern time | First big race is called, McConnell projected winner

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) will hold onto his Senate seat – which was expected, though perhaps not so decisively or quickly as the election was called. Various media outlets including CNN have called the election. Whether Senator McConnell becomes majority leader remains to be seen.

Polls have closed in seven states now, though it may be a while a victor is determined in some of the key states, including North Carolina (where polls close at 7:30 p.m.) and New Hampshire. In Georgia, where the winner needs to get a majority, a runoff election is highly likely.

Along with Senator McConnell, South Carolina – where the race wasn’t remotely close – has also been called for Republican incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham.

As more information comes in, keep an eye on (1) whether Democrats can hang onto their seats in North Carolina and New Hampshire – two states that are essential for them if they have any hope of retaining control of the Senate – and (2) if Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen does manage to keep her seat, how big her margin of victory is.

– Amanda Paulson

6:33 p.m. Eastern time | Gallup data not rosy for Democrats

If there’s any question why Democratic incumbents are struggling this year, take a look at some of the latest exit poll data coming out today. Just 44 percent of voters say they approve of the president, while 57 percent disapprove. Less than a third of voters say they believe the country is on the right track, and nearly 80 percent say they disapprove of how Congress is doing.

That bleak mood isn’t likely to translate into good news for Democrats, particularly Democratic incumbents. And aggregated tracking data from Gallup shows even worse-than-average approval ratings for President Obama in some of the key states Democrats need if they are to have any hope of retaining their control of the Senate. In Iowa, Kansas, and Arkansas, Mr. Obama’s average approval rating during the past few months has been lower than 40 percent – 38 percent, 33 percent, and 29 percent, respectively.

Obama himself, speaking to a Connecticut radio station Tuesday afternoon, didn’t sound very optimistic about his party’s chances of retaining control of the Senate.

"This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," Obama said on the show. "There are a lot of states that are being contested where they just tend to tilt Republican.”

– Amanda Paulson

6:25 p.m. Eastern time | Could 'Ferguson effect' cost Michelle Nunn?

The events in Ferguson, Mo., have presented problems for Democrats this election. But Georgia Democrats supporting Michelle Nunn’s Senate bid went there anyway – sending out a mailer to black voters that touched on the subject. Now, one of Ms. Nunn’s staunchest supporters is saying that might have been a mistake.

As the Monitor’s Francine Kiefer wrote, the perception of racial injustice growing out of the police killing of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson is a major issue within the African-American community. In states including Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the black vote could prove decisive.

But the issue is enormously divisive racially. While 80 percent of blacks say Ferguson “raises important issues about race,” only 37 percent of whites agree, according to an August Pew Research poll. The plurality of whites (47 percent) say “race is getting more attention than it deserves.” So despite the importance of getting out the black vote, Democrats have shied away from the issue, worried about a backlash among larger white populations.

The mailer sent by Georgia Democrats shows two small African-American children holding “don’t shoot” signs, with the added text: “If You Want to Prevent Another Ferguson In Their Future…” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke to The Washington Post about the mailer.

I don’t think the Ferguson reference was handled with the appropriate level of sophistication. You can talk about Trayvon (Martin) and Ferguson, but you can do it in a way that is more aspirational than threatening. I don’t think that piece should have been sent. I do believe that Ferguson and Trayvon and how black people are treated by the criminal justice is an appropriate conversation in an election, but when you are trying to hold on to a regional share of the white electorate, those kinds of pieces have to be handled very delicately. It was not helpful in the final stretch in a race where Michelle Nunn was surging and ahead.

– Mark Sappenfield

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