WASHINGTON -- Carol Moseley Braun, a community-level politician, a woman, a black and a symbol of this year's political trends, moved toward a historic place in the U.S. Senate soon after Illinois' polls closed last night.
The Democratic Recorder of Deeds in Cook County, who was unknown elsewhere until late last winter, was projected to become the first black woman elected to the Senate.
Last March, with the help of deep voter resentment about the Senate fight over Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination, Ms. Braun unseated Sen. Alan J. Dixon in the Democratic primary.
Although she had stumbled occasionally during the general campaign, she was emerging as the apparent winner over Richard Williamson, a Chicago lawyer and former Reagan administration official.
The Senate appeared likely to have another "first" -- the only Native-American to be elected. In Colorado, Democrat Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whose father was a Northern Cheyenne, was projected to take the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Timothy E. Wirth. Mr. Campbell is now a member of the House.
In other states, Democratic Senate candidates, clinging nervously to the coattails of Gov. Bill Clinton, were lifted over strong Republican rivals. That trend could give the Democrats a few more votes in their majority control of the full Senate.
Early projections suggested that the Democrats could get a net gain of at least two seats. Such a gain would put their margin of control at 59-41 -- just short of a "filibuster-proof" majority.
In Georgia, one-term Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler Jr., who had been locked in a race so tight that a runoff seemed possible, was seen as the likely winner. Mr. Fowler was an early beneficiary of Mr. Clinton's electoral strength, especially in a state where a huge outpouring of black votes favored the Democrats by a 90-10 percent margin.
Similarly, in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential candidate's power appeared to be working for Democrat John Rauh, a businessman who had moved to the state only six years ago.
Mr. Rauh was taking on a member of one of the state's most powerful political families: Republican Gov. John Gregg, who had led narrowly in polls until the final days of the campaign. The candidates were seeking the seat yielded by retiring Republican Sen. Warren B. Rudman.
In Missouri, where incumbent Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond had been expanding his lead during the campaign, St. Louis City Councilwoman Geri Rothman-Serot, a Democrat, was obviously benefiting last night from Gov. Clinton's strength. First returns, in fact, showed her in the lead -- but not far enough to claim it early.
If Mr. Bond seemed threatened by the negative voter attitude this year toward incumbents, that ultimately did not cost the Democrats one of their most vulnerable incumbents: Ohio's Sen. John Glenn.
The former space hero, now more familiar as a three-term incumbent who has been tainted by the savings and loan scandal, was under siege from Republican Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine, a former House member. But Mr. Glenn was projected as the winner less than an hour after the polls had closed in Ohio.
But in North Carolina, another state where Democrats had feared the loss of an incumbent, Democratic Sen. Terry Sanford was trailing conservative-backed Republican Lauch Faircloth. Mr. Faircloth is an ex-Democrat and former Sanford political ally.
In South Carolina, 26-year veter an Democrat Ernest F. Hollings was apparently holding on to his seat, the projected winner over former Rep. Tommy Hartnett, a Republican.
The Democrats' most ambitious goal in the Senate races was to dTC gain at least three more seats, to give them a total of 60. If 60 Democrats were elected -- and if they could be persuaded to vote together in major legislative battles -- they could break any filibuster and give the party almost total control of the Senate agenda.
However, as the campaign progressed, the tightening of some races threatened that goal.
The precise party lineup of the new Senate will not be clear for another month, because a special election on Dec. 4 in North Dakota will fill the two years remaining on the term of the late Sen. Quentin Burdick, a Democrat. His widow, Jocelyn Burdick, has been occupying the seat in the interim, but is not seeking election.
Ms. Burdick is one of only three women currently in the Senate, but that number appeared likely to increase as races across the country were being settled last night. Eleven women -- 10 Democrats and one Republican -- were running for Senate seats, and several were favored to win.
Maryland's Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski easily defeated Republican Alan Keyes. Along with Ms. Mikulski and Ms. Burdick, the other female senator now is Nancy L. Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican, who is not up for election this year.
Ms. Kassebaum apparently will not get a female colleague from her home state. Democrat Gloria O'Dell, a state treasury official, was projected as a loser to the Senate's Republican leader, four-term Sen. Bob Dole.
So was another woman running against a GOP incumbent. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, although tarred by the savings and loan scandal, overcame that liability to defeat Democratic civic activist Claire Sargent.