Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii’s senior U.S. senator, was easily re-elected to office Tuesday night.

But he will return to a Washington where his party lost Senate seats and saw the U.S. House fall to Republican control.

Inouye, a decorated World War II soldier and one of the most important figures in Hawaii politics since statehood, won his ninth consecutive term. Inouye held 72 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

Republican Cam Cavasso trailed a distant second with 21 percent, followed by Libertarian Lloyd Mallan (1.6 percent), Green candidate Jim Brewer (less than 1 percent) and nonpartisan candidate Jeff Jarrett (less than 1 percent).

In a Republican year, Inouye appears to be among the biggest winners of the night. Idaho Republican incumbent Mike Crapo has received 73 percent of vote with 36 percent.

Utah’s Mike Lee, a Republican and former U.S. House Rep, is winning his senate race (there’s no incumbent) with 62 percent of the vote, 71 percent of precincts counted.

Inouye, who reported receiving $3.5 million in contributions between Jan. 1, 2009, and Oct. 13, 2010, did not debate his opponents. Cavasso received about $129,000 in contributions during the same period.

This year’s victory for Inouye, 86, mirrored his 2004 re-election, when he took 73 percent of the vote. Cavasso, Mallan and Brewer also competed in that race, with Cavasso finishing second with 20 percent.

In 1998 Inouye won with 76 percent.

The senator’s closest race was in 1992, when he finished with 54 percent. His Republican challenger that year, Rick Reed, placed second with nearly 26 percent.

Inouye, who was first elected to the Senate in 1962, is the most senior member of the Senate and is president pro tempore of the chamber and the top-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history.

He first took his office on Jan. 3, 1963.

At 47 years, 9 months and 30 days in office, he is already the second longest-serving senator in U.S. history, behind only to West Virginia Democrat Robert C. Byrd.

Byrd served 51 years, 5 months and 26 days, which means Inouye would only have to serve another 3 years, 7 months and 27 days in order to snag the honor for serving longest.

Inouye is also chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, where he has worked to ensure Hawaii receives a generous cut of federal funds.

The Untouchable Inouye

But Inouye will not be returning to the same U.S. Senate, where Democrats had a 57-41 majority and the support of the body’s two independents. While he coasted to re-election, many of his colleagues either were defeated or chose not to seek re-election.

As of late Tuesday, Republicans were projected to pick up at least six Senate seats, narrowing Democrats’ margin of power to 51-46, with three states still too close to call. Democratic Party losses included Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin projected to lose. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada managed to hold on to his seat.

During the primary season, veteran incumbents Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican who switched parties, and Republicans Robert Bennett of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, were defeated — although early results showed Murkowski, who entered the race as an independent write-in candidate, with a five percentage point lead.

Inouye’s Democratic colleagues Evan Bayh of Indiana, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chris Dodd of Connecticut chose not to seek re-election.

The 111th Congress is scheduled to hold a lame-duck session beginning later this month. The new 112th Congress will be sworn in Jan. 3.

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