Senate incumbents overcame widespread voter disenchantment as 31 of 32 lawmakers won re-election. The only loser was two-term Republican Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota.
With 88 percent of precincts reporting, Boschwitz lost to college professor Paul Wellstone, a political neophyte, by a 52-48 margin.Wellstone's victory boosted Democrats' majority in the Senate to 56-44, a one-seat gain from the 101st Congress.
"I think the main thing was that people are kind of angry at Washington, don't feel represented and want to see some real change," Wellstone said Wednesday on NBC. "We focused on issues and people. And it captured the imagination of people in Minnesota."
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said Democrats' success Tuesday "means that the Republican chances of taking control in 1992 are much diminished, and I think we will retain control in '92,"
Democratic hopes of picking up another seat in North Carolina were dashed as Republican Sen. Jesse Helms turned back a tough challenge from former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt.
The lone surprise was New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's slim victory over unheralded GOP challenger Christine Todd Whitman. Feeling the heat of anti-government anger prompted by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio's $2.8 billion tax increase, Bradley managed a 52-48 percent victory.
Republican dreams of capturing the Senate seat in Hawaii disappeared as appointed Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka withstood a stiff test from Rep. Pat Saiki and won his first full term.
The major Democratic target was Helms, the 69-year-old champion of the right wing who was pitted against Gantt.
Helms, who had contended in the closing days that Gantt favored racial quotas, relished his victory.
"There is no joy in Mudville tonight," the senator said. "The mighty ultra-liberal establishment, the liberal politicians and editors and commentators and columnists have struck out again."
Democrats also hoped for a gain in Oregon, but four-term Republican Mark Hatfield outdistanced businessman-scientist Harry Lonsdale.
Republicans retained control of the three open Senate seats. Rep. Robert Smith defeated former Sen. John Durkin in New Hampshire, while Rep. Hank Brown won in Colorado and Rep. Larry Craig was the victor in Idaho.
Democratic incumbents Claiborne Pell in Rhode Island, Carl Levin in Michigan and Paul Simon in Illinois won surprisingly easy victories over well-financed Republican House members.
Other incumbents of both parties won with ease.
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, won unopposed. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and David Pryor, D-Ark., also had no contests.
Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo. won easily. In South Dakota, Republican Sen. Larry Pressler gained a third term.
Other senior incumbents returned to office were Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., at 87 the Senate's oldest member; Howell Heflin, D-Ala.; John Warner, R-Va.; David Boren, D-Okla.; Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; William Cohen, R-Maine; Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.