6:58 am Nov. 7, 2012
One of the biggest winners among New York's elected officials last night wasn't on the ballot.
Senator Chuck Schumer saw the Democrats keep control of the Senate, and possibly even gain seats, in an election that had been expected to threaten the party's majority.
Instead, the Class of 2006, which Schumer helped elect as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and which he predicted would get through its first re-election test intact, appears to have done just that, strengthening Schumer's hand in the Senate and guaranteeing him some close friends for any future leadership race.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was supposed to have been Republicans' top target, won re-election in Missouri, after her conservative challenger's comments about "legitimate rape" caused a national uproar.
Sherrod Brown hung on in Ohio over a young, Tea Party-backed state treasurer, and Bob Casey won big in Pennsylvania, after a late scare in the polls.
Even Jon Tester, the four-fingered organic farmer who won a surprise victory in Montana by 3,000 votes in 2006, appeared to be leading his opponent, with most precincts reporting.
The victories were part of a broader rout by Democrats' Senate candidates, with the party taking nearly every toss-up seat (with the exception of Nevada) and appearing to win one that leaned Republican too.
The party won in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren took back Teddy Kennedy's old seat from Republican Scott Brown, and in Indiana, where a conservative challenger, Richard Mourdock, had beaten longtime incumbent Dick Lugar in a Republican primary. Democrats didn't even consider Indiana in play until Mourdock's victory, but they pounced on the Republicans' extraordinarily partisan rhetoric, and later, his explanation that pregnancies resulting from rape were part of God's will.
The comments put Republicans across the country on the defensive in an election where they were presumed to have the upper hand in conservative states, running against President Obama's record on the economy, and with many millions of dollars' worth of super PAC advertising at their back.
But Democrats also held the Virginia seat it had won in 2006, with Tim Kaine defeating George Allen, and it may held the North Dakota seat being vacated by the retiring Kent Conrad, with the likable Heidi Heitkamp holding a narrow lead over her Republican opponent.
In all likelihood, the party even stole a seat in Maine, with the victory of independent Angus King, who Schumer has publicly predicted would caucus with the Democrats.
The gains give Democrats a strong hand in the Senate, where Schumer currently serves in a leadership role as a close confidant of Harry Reid and the director of politics and messaging.
Schumer has a close bond with the senators he helped elect in 2006, when they rode an anti-George W. Bush wave into a surprise majority, and their victories mean Schumer would have a few more members who were indebted to him, if there were to be a race for majority leader when Reid's term expires in 2016, a prospect that Schumer has long refused to discuss.