The path for Democrats to flip control of the US Senate narrowed when Republican Susan Collins successfully defended her seat Wednesday, November 4, virtually assuring continued political polarisation in a divided Congress – no matter who wins the White House.
As the presidential battle between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was coming down to the wire, the congressional balance of power became clearer, with Democrats holding the House of Representatives and their hopes of snatching the Senate hanging by a thread.
With Republicans fiercely defending their 53-47 majority, Democrats would need to gain 3 seats to seize Senate control if Biden wins the presidency, and 4 seats if Trump is reelected. (A 50-50 tie is broken by the vice president.)
Democrats flipped two Senate seats in western states Colorado and Arizona on Tuesday, November 3, but the blue wave that many Democrats predicted may have crested there.
Republicans ousted a vulnerable Democrat in Alabama, and stood their ground in other key races, often fending off well-funded challenges and defying polls that warned how Trump could be a drag on Republican incumbents defending vulnerable Senate seats.
The Republican Party prevailed in other closely watched races where they were under threat.
Senator Lindsey Graham – under intense pressure after overseeing the controversial confirmation process of a Supreme Court justice weeks before the presidential vote – fought back a fierce challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison in the conservative bastion of South Carolina.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell easily won his race in Kentucky, and incumbents held firm in places like Iowa, Texas, Montana, and likely in Alaska.
The latest Republican victory came in Maine, where Democrats saw the moderate Collins on the chopping block in part because of her support for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
They invested heavily in her challenger Sara Gideon, Maine’s House speaker who led for months in statewide polling, but Collins weathered the storm and dealt a severe blow to Democrats’ Senate hopes.
“The Republican Senate majority appears likely to endure,” Kyle Kondik of the University’s Center for Politics wrote in a Wednesday newsletter.
The Democratic door has not shut completely though. Republican Senator Thom Tillis has claimed a “historic” victory in his North Carolina reelection bid, although the race has yet to be called.
And there are two Senate races in traditionally red Georgia. One of them, a special election featuring Republican Kelly Loeffler who was appointed to fill the seat of a retiring lawmaker, is headed to a runoff in January against Democrat Raphael Warnock.
In the other, incumbent David Perdue is 3 percentage points ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff with 92% of the vote counted.
A Democratic victory in either Georgia race would be dramatic, as no Democrat has won a US Senate election in the relatively conservative southern state since 1996.
The overall result will likely be major disappointment for Democrats, whom election forecaster FiveThirtyEight had given a 3 in 4 chance of winning Senate control.
Should Biden, who narrowly leads in the electoral vote count, oust Trump, his hands could be tied when he confronts a hostile Republican-led Senate, even at a time when a new commander in chief often enjoys a deep well of political capital.
Controlling the Senate is vital as the party in power determines which bills reach the floor and which of the president’s nominees receive confirmation votes.
McConnell, the unflappable master tactician, has guided more than 200 of Trump’s federal judge picks and 3 Supreme Court nominees through the Senate confirmation process.
Biden would have a far tougher time getting his picks through a McConnell-run chamber.
Democrats meanwhile kept the House of Representatives, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi – Trump’s chief nemesis in Washington – likely to preside over her flock for two more years.
But it was a muted victory, with Republicans able to make gains against shell-shocked Democrats who had expected to expand their majority.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans managed to flip at least 7 seats in Tuesday’s election.
“President Trump’s momentum has helped us expand our House Republican coalition,” he said in a statement.
Republicans performed particularly well in Florida where they ousted congresswoman Donna Shalala, who served in Bill Clinton’s cabinet, and in Iowa and Texas. – Rappler.com
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