Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse decisively defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee '75 in yesterday's midterm election, as Democrats celebrated overwhelming success in statewide races as well as House and Senate races across the country.
Whitehouse captured 53.4 percent of the vote compared to Chafee's 46.6 percent, a margin of over 26,000 votes.
"When the eyes of the country were upon you, Rhode Island did the right thing," state Democratic Party Chair Bill Lynch told a crowd of Whitehouse supporters packed elbow-to-elbow at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence at 11 p.m., moments before their senator-elect took the stage.
Greeted with resounding cheers, Whitehouse told supporters, "It means the world to me that you have done this. ... I intend to go down to Washington and work my heart out for you each and every day."
Whitehouse, who said Chafee had "very graciously conceded" the race, also thanked the incumbent senator's family for its "very long and proud legacy of service in Rhode Island."
His remarks were temporarily drowned out by chants of, "Shel-don! Shel-don!" from the crowd of hundreds.
Together, Lincoln Chafee and his father, the late former Sen. John Chafee, have held a Rhode Island Senate seat for three decades.
Though Chafee is recognized as a moderate Republican and was the only member of his party to vote against the Iraq war, Whitehouse had emphasized the incumbent's ties to the national Republican Party and President George W. Bush.
National attention focused on the race in recent weeks, highlighting it as one of several opportunities for Democrats to regain control of the Senate.
"The rage towards our president proved insurmountable. ... My long record of accomplishments for Rhode Island were no match for this perfect storm," Chafee said, according to NBC Channel 10.
Bush has an approval rating of 22 percent in Rhode Island, the lowest of any state.
Whitehouse is a former Rhode Island attorney general and served as U.S. attorney under former President Bill Clinton. He ran in the state's 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary and lost.
Democrats swept every statewide race but the gubernatorial contest yesterday, with Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 defeating Democratic Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty.
In a race that could not be called until long after projections for the Senate race had been made in Whitehouse's favor, the incumbent Carcieri defeated his opponent 51 percent to 49 percent - a margin of less than 8,000 votes.
Tuesday's midterm election found Democratic candidates victorious across the country. The party captured 19 House seats - including three in Indiana, three in Pennsylvania and two in New Hampshire - previously held by Republicans, and every Democratic incumbent was retained. These gains proved more than enough to win control of the House.
As of early Wednesday morning, Democrats had won four of the six seats they would need to regain control of the Senate. In addition to Whitehouse in Rhode Island, Democratic candidates were victorious in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri. Contested races in Virginia and Montana remained too close to call.
Democrats also won gubernatorial races in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio for the first time in more than 10 years.
Westerly resident Dane Nichols, who was in the crowd at the Biltmore, said she voted for Whitehouse because he is "the first candidate that I have really wanted to work for, as opposed to against the person he's running against."
"(In previous years), I split my ticket - I'd vote for Lincoln Chafee because he's a good guy, moderate," Nichols said. "But Sheldon is outstanding, and we need to restore balance to our government, a system of checks and balances."
Joe Danti, a resident of Chepachet, said he hopes "this will be a blue-collar year, if you will," in regard to Tuesday's elections, specifically the gubernatorial race.
"There's a big movement going through the country and we need to get everyone on the same page," Danti said. "The ones with the most marbles win - the rich people. Hopefully we can put a little dent in that."
Craig Auster '08, vice president of the Brown Democrats, called the gubernatorial race "a heartbreaker, because it's so close."
"(Carcieri) has spent more time fighting with the General Assembly than trying to enact meaningful legislation," said Auster, who attended the event at the Biltmore with several members of the Dems.