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On whirlwind night, Republicans blitz to better night than imagined

Republicans were expected to retake the Senate on Election Night. But not so emphatically. Now, they look likely to nearly sweep the tossup Senate races and win some surprising governor's races.

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    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus arrives for a news conference at RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday. Needless to say, he's pleased.
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    Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) of New Hampshire hugs a volunteer as she heads in to vote at the Town Hall in Madbury, N.H., Tuesday. Major media outlets have called the race for Senator Shaheen.
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    Stickers await voters after they cast their votes on Election Day at Glenwood Center in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.
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[Updated at 2:55 a.m. EST] For a sign of how good the night was for Republicans, look no further than Virginia. Sure, in the end, Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner seemed likely to eke out a victory, but he was barely hanging on in a race that wasn’t even considered to be in play by most pundits.

Before Election Day, Democrats had been insisting that polls were unfairly tilting Republican, and that a strong ground game would give them unexpected victories.

But in the end, Republicans in almost every key race have actually done better than polls predicted.

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Republicans regained control of the US Senate, emphatically. By midnight, Republicans had already been projected to win seven states back from Democrats: Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, North Carolina, and Colorado. Alaska, which won’t be called until Wednesday morning at the earliest, also seems a likely pickup for Republicans on a night where they’ve performed so well everywhere else. Louisiana is headed to a runoff on Dec. 6, giving Republicans a chance to pick up another seat. And in Kansas, where Independent Greg Orman at one point was favored to win, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) hung on to his seat.

That raises the possibility of Republicans winning nine of the 10 tossup races. That would give Republicans 54 seats in the next Senate.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s victory in New Hampshire was the lone bright spot for Democrats, and even there, the victory was much narrower than expected.

“This is the best night the Republican establishment has had in a long time,” says Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. And unlike in 2010, he notes, many of the victors were more traditional Republican, not tea party candidates. “This is the triumph of your grandfather’s Republican Party.”

Key governor races, which many pundits had been predicting would be better for Democrats, were also going to Republicans, in some cases shockingly. In a major win for the GOP, Republican Rick Scott beat Democrat Charlie Crist in Florida. And Republicans won fairly easily in what had been expected to be close races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Kansas, and Georgia. Moreover, Republicans picked up governor's mansions in deep blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, while Colorado remained too close to call.

But it was the decisive victory in the Senate that headlined the night.

“Republicans are likely to control the Senate by a considerable margin,” says Professor Pitney. “The conventional wisdom was that Republicans might pick up the Senate in 2014, but may lose it again in 2016 when they’re more heavily exposed. But if they build up a nice cushion in 2014, then they could hold on, the way Democrats held on in 2012…. It’s fair to say the opposition to President Obama has grown more formidable.”

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