WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner breezed to victory in his bid for the Senate on Tuesday, snagging a southern seat long held by Republicans and fueling expectations that Democrats would solidify their now-thin leadership grip over the chamber.
Warner beat another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, in the race to replace retiring five-term Sen. John W. Warner. The two Warners are not related.
The victory came as Democrats, piggybacking on aggressive Barack Obama voter-registration and get-out-the-vote drives in battleground states, reached for a coveted 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Voters flocked to the polls to fill 35 Senate seats in a year in which both parties said they expected Democratic gains.
In South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close adviser to GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, won a second term, defeating Democrat Bob Conley. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller won his fifth Senate term in West Virginia.
With Warner's victory in Virginia, Democrats now control both Senate seats and the governor's mansion. Virginia usually votes Republican in presidential elections, but this year Democrats viewed it as one of their most promising pick ups.
Despite Democratic optimism, leaders in both parties portrayed a 60-40 Democratic majority as a long shot.
Yet even bringing their numbers to close to 60 would enable Democrats to exercise far more control than they have now, since some Republicans probably would join them in efforts to break Senate logjams on many bills and judicial appointments.
Senate Democrats now have a tenuous 51-49 majority, and only thanks to the support of two independents. But a slumping economy, an unpopular war and voter fatigue after eight years of President Bush could help them bolster that majority, building on the six seats they added in 2006.
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.