Republican wins Obama's old seat
Chicago – President Barack Obama suffered a significant symbolic defeat on Tuesday when Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois won the US Senate seat Obama vacated two years ago.
Kirk's narrow victory over his challenger Alexi Giannoulias was one in a series of body blows suffered by shell-shocked Democrats in which Republicans gained at least six seats in the 100-seat Senate and regained control of the House of Representatives.
The position should have been an easy win for Democrats, who had only lost one US Senate race in Illinois in the past four decades.
But a series of scandals have undermined Democrats in the midwestern state, as has voter frustration embroiling the nation due to the deepest economic crisis in a generation.
Rising independent tide
"There's a rising independent tide and people are tired of the government spending money they don't have," Kirk told reporters after voting in the Chicago suburb of Highwood early on Tuesday.
Once victory was out of reach, Giannoulias said he called Kirk to concede.
"He made a promise to me that he will never forget who he is fighting for," Giannoulias told supporters.
"I think he will make a strong senator... He's our senator and he's going to help a lot of people."
Moderate on social issues
First elected to the House in 2000, Kirk developed a reputation in Washington as a moderate on social issues and a fiscally conservative policy wonk.
A longtime intelligence officer in the naval reserves, Kirk won a commendation for his 1999 service in Kosovo and has also served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.
But he was forced to apologise in June for inflating his service record – including claims that he ran the Pentagon war room, came under enemy fire in Iraq and was the US Navy's intelligence officer of the year.
Kirk, 51, is a vocal supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a staunch defender of Israel who has pushed for tougher sanctions against Iran.
Bitter and ugly campaign
He fought a bitter and ugly campaign against Obama's one-time protégé and basketball buddy Giannoulias, a first-term state treasurer.
Obama fought hard for Giannoulias, whose campaign had taken a major hit from the failure of his family's bank.
Obama drew 35 000 people to a Chicago rally on Saturday and appeared at fundraisers and in ads where he called Giannoulias his "friend".
"You can trust him," Obama had insisted. "You can count on him."