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New Faces: Newly elected US senators

Thursday - 11/8/2012, 2:43am  ET

By The Associated Press

(AP) - A look at the newly elected U.S. senators from Tuesday's election:

ARIZONA

Republican Jeff Flake, the congressman who won Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat, built his reputation on a fierce opposition to "earmarks," the special funding requests for roads, bridges and other local pet projects that are criticized as wasteful patronage.

His opposition to pork-barrel spending has proved popular in the past, but Flake faced criticism during the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl that his crusade has hurt efforts to attract new businesses to the state.

"Arizona is far better without earmarks," a confident Flake said during an October debate.

Flake, who has represented cities in eastern metro Phoenix in Congress since 2000, won the Senate seat over independent-turned-Democrat Richard Carmona, who served as President George W. Bush's surgeon general.

Before Carmona entered the race a year ago, both parties viewed Flake as the overwhelming favorite. The contest grew more competitive after Flake emerged from a bruising primary against a wealthy businessman who put $6 million of his own money into the race and outside groups threw in about $15 million into the general-election contest in October.

Flake has supported Republican priorities over the years, but also has sided with Democrats on other issues.

In the past, Flake opposed the rescue of financial firms during Bush's administration, the 2010 health care overhaul and the 2009 economic stimulus package. He has applauded the Obama administration's decision to lift a ban on travel and remittances to Cuba.

Flake has been criticized for changing his immigration views. He supported proposals in the past that would have revamped guest-worker programs and created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But he took a narrower position when he announced his Senate candidacy last year, saying voters won't trust government to fix the nation's immigration woes unless it can first secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

CONNECTICUT

When Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy neared the end of his victory speech in a bruising U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, he returned to the story of his mother rising out of poverty and what the election meant for a fictional girl living in a public housing complex.

The three-term U.S. congressman said voters gave the girl a better chance at a brighter future.

"She's wondering whether that promise that was made to my mother _ work hard, play by the rules and you'll have a chance to make it _ is still alive," he said. "She's going to wake up tomorrow and know that that chance to be great ... is just a little bit closer. And in the end my friends, that is the most important measurement of what we've done here tonight."

Murphy defeated Republican former wrestling executive Linda McMahon in the race to succeed retiring independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, touting his commitment to the middle class and accusing McMahon of favoring the rich. In the process, he survived McMahon spending $42 million of her own money, $8 million short of what she spent in her unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2010.

He also survived McMahon's attacks on his past financial problems, which included late mortgage and property tax payments, despite McMahon's own bankruptcy years ago.

His victory was part of Democrats' sweep of five congressional races in Connecticut.

Murphy, who served eight years in the state legislature before going to Congress, said his priorities include reforming the tax code to help small businesses, promoting and strengthening American manufacturing, rebuilding roads and rails, improving education and growing the renewable energy industry. He agrees with President Barack Obama on most social and economic issues.

Bridging the bitter divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington has been another of his goals. He is a co-chairman of the Center Aisle Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members trying to promote civility and positive dialogue in Congress.

HAWAII

While campaigning for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono rarely shied away from fierce support of Democrats and consistent criticism of Republicans, arguing that her party's stances better reflect the values of Hawaii.

Now, after trouncing former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Hirono is embracing her standing as the state's first woman to serve as senator and the Senate's first Asian-American woman.

Hirono told The Associated Press after winning Tuesday night that the historical footnote says more about the makeup of the country's electoral pipeline.

"What it reflects is that we need a lot more diversity in the United States Senate," said Hirono, who was born in Fukushima, Japan. "I'm going to do my part to support more women to run for Congress and certainly support more minority candidates."

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