WASHINGTON-Tuesday night started strong for Republicans. Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Rand Paul was projected the winner in Kentucky almost as soon as the polls closed. Florida's Marco Rubio quickly joined Paul as his first Tea Party Senate ally.
But as election night wore on, more vulnerable Democrats survived. It soon became clear that the GOP/Tea Party coalition would fall short in its bid to retake both chambers of Congress. The House tsunami turned out to be a mere tropical storm in the Senate.
Republicans did enjoy unseating Democrat incumbent Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. But the GOP and the Tea Party failed at toppling their top target: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. With the nation's highest unemployment rate in his state, the Nevada Democrat was on the ropes during most of the election season. But Nevada Republicans could not overcome the campaign liabilities of Tea Party-backed candidate Sharron Angle.
Both Angle and Delaware's losing Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell upset established GOP candidates in the primary. But both went on to lose Democrat held seats that many observers believed were vulnerable.
Combined with Republican Ken Buck late loss in Colorado, it seems that the Tea Party may have actually prevented the Republicans from making even bigger Senate gains. In the end, most Senate Democrats, like California's Barbara Boxer, proved better at playing defense then their House counterparts.
Republicans still grabbed one coveted symbolic prize: President Barack Obama's old Illinois Senate seat went to Republican and current House member Mark Kirk.
These new Senate Republicans-including Feingold's conqueror, Ron Johnson, the president of an Oshkosh-based, 120-employee plastics company, who just last spring decided to run for his first-ever public office after being disgusted at the new healthcare law-are expected to buck the Senate tradition of noiseless freshmen lawmakers.
Paul said on Tuesday that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, should not assume that Paul would be an automatic Republican vote
"We will challenge him from day to day," Paul promised of the new senators.
Republicans look to gain six Senate seats, leaving the Democrats with an even smaller majority in a body that really takes 60 votes to accomplish anything. The likely final 53- to 47-seat Democratic advantage means Reid, given new life, now will have to convince at least seven Republicans to join in on any Democratic agenda.
Don't expect many freshmen Republicans, or for that matter even veteran GOP members looking at their own reelections in 2012, to be so eager.
After all, McConnell recently said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Republicans may not be alone in their opposition. In fact, Reid may have an equally difficult time keeping in line members of his own party. In 2012, Democrats will have to defend 23 Senate seats that are up for reelection. Meanwhile, the six-year terms of just 10 Senate Republicans are up that year.
Senate Democrats in largely conservative states like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jim Webb of Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana will probably be on edge most of the next two years.
It doesn't get any easier for Democrats: 20 Democrat senators (and just 14 Republican senators) are up for reelection in 2014. While conservatives failed to win the Senate on Tuesday, this could be just part one in a trilogy of elections that ultimately will turn the Senate red.
See WORLD's interactive national map for complete election results from across the country.