Democrats’ Hopes for Capturing a Senate Majority Fade

November 4, 2020by Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), delivers his victory speech at the Omni Louisville Hotel on November 3, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Democrats’ hopes of sweeping to a Senate majority faded as marquee contests stretched into overtime early Wednesday and some of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents remained in contention while the vote counts dragged on.

Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, whose defeats had been considered essential building blocks of a new Democratic majority, held narrow leads over their opponents in nearly complete results. If they eke out a win, Democrats’ path to a majority would all but vanish.

Given the races remaining to be called, perhaps the best Democrats could achieve is a 50-50 split, which would give them a majority only if Joe Biden won the presidential election and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, then became the president of the Senate and its tie-breaker.

Democrats had headed into Election Day favored to win a slight majority in the Senate, but returns were mixed early on as polls closed across the country.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado was beaten by Democratic former Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose candidacy was boosted by President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state. But Gardner had been Democrats’ easiest target, and their gain of that seat was offset by their loss of a seat in Alabama held by Sen. Doug Jones, whose defeat by Republican Tommy Tuberville, a former head football coach at Auburn University, had been widely expected. In 2017, Jones won a fluke victory in the deep-red, pro-Trump state against a Republican rival hit by a sex scandal.

Other Republicans facing surprisingly stiff challenges — Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Steve Daines of Montana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — all pulled out victories.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky easily beat Democrat Amy McGrath, a veteran whose campaign drew national attention and money from Democrats who wanted to end his reign as Senate majority leader. And McConnell’s lieutenant, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, beat Democrat MJ Hegar, again dashing Democrats’ hopes that the Lone Star State had turned blue.

Republicans now hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. Democrats needed a net gain of four seats to achieve a majority — or three if Biden won.

The Senate contest this year has been fought on a political map that favored Democrats: There were 12 competitive races in states with Republican-held seats while only two Senate Democrats were considered vulnerable, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

In Arizona, incomplete returns showed Republican Sen. Martha McSally significantly behind Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who has been one of Democrats’ strongest fundraisers.

Democrats were looking to regain the Senate majority for the first time since 2014. They had swamped their GOP rivals in fundraising. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that Democratic Senate candidates raised $726 million through the end of September to Republicans’ $423 million.

That made for a tough slog for Republican senators who were seen as vulnerable from the outset, like Tillis, as well as others who started strong but were dragged down by Trump’s sagging fortunes, like Ernst.

“I’ve got a little bit of a scratchy voice today but it’s all good, Election Day is here,” Ernst said in a Tuesday radio interview with conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt. Tillis, also speaking to Hewitt, described the home stretch: “I’ve eaten about 30 pounds of barbecue over the last seven days and talked to a lot of people.”

The fate of candidates of both parties was closely tied to the outcome of the presidential race because ticket-splitting voters are increasingly rare. In 2016, for the first time ever, there was no state that voted for a Senate candidate of one party and the presidential nominee of the other party.

The makeup of the Senate will not be settled for some time because of the large number of mail-in ballots to be counted — an unprecedented share reflecting many voters’ desire to avoid polling places amid a pandemic. And in at least one state — Georgia, which had two Senate seats up for grabs — final results will be delayed because election laws require candidates to win by a majority vote.

Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler heads to a Jan. 5 runoff with Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. preached. No one hit 50% in the all-party, multicandidate election to oust Loeffler, who’d been appointed to the seat in January to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson after he retired because of ill health.

In Georgia’s other Senate race, incomplete returns had Republican Sen. David Perdue leading Democratic rival Jon Ossoff, but their race also would go to a runoff if Perdue’s vote share drops below 50%.

Results could also be delayed in Maine. If neither Collins nor Democrat challenger Sara Gideon wins a majority, the race will be settled through the state’s relatively new system of rank-choice voting, which could take a week or more to complete. Voters cast ballots in which they also list their second choice, and those preferences are tabulated if no one reaches 50% in the first round. That is potentially problematic for Collins because a dark-horse candidate, a progressive running as an independent, had urged her supporters to list Gideon second.

Collins is at risk in a Democratic-leaning state against Gideon, the speaker of the state house. Democrats have been portraying Collins as a Trump enabler, particularly because of her support for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, challenging her reputation as an independent voice who has delivered for her constituents.

In North Carolina, Tillis’ fate hinged heavily on how Trump did in a state he won in 2016. In incomplete returns, he was running slightly ahead of Democrat Cal Cunningham, a businessman and veteran who was recently set back by news that he’d had an extramarital relationship.

Republicans had one other Democratic target in sight: first-term Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, challenged by Republican John James, who would become the second Black Republican in the Senate if he won.

___

Los Angeles Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

___

(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

U.S. Senate

Senate Committee Seeks Assurances of Cooperation in Biden’s Foreign Affairs
U.S. Senate
Senate Committee Seeks Assurances of Cooperation in Biden’s Foreign Affairs
January 19, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee on Tuesday reviewed a Biden nominee to become secretary of state in a move that represents one of several big changes planned by the new president. Biden nominated his long-time foreign affairs advisor Antony J. Blinken in hopes he would moderate... Read More

McConnell Rebukes Trump for Feeding 'Lies' to Protesters Who Stormed Capitol
Political News
McConnell Rebukes Trump for Feeding 'Lies' to Protesters Who Stormed Capitol
January 19, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opened the Senate on Tuesday with a sharp rebuke for President Donald Trump, saying the outgoing chief executive "fed lies" to protestors who carried out a deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. McConnell's remarks, his strongest... Read More

Harris Prepares for Central Role in Biden's White House
Political News
Harris Prepares for Central Role in Biden's White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kamala Harris will make history on Wednesday when she becomes the nation’s first female vice president — and the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to hold that office. But that’s only where her boundary-breaking role begins. With... Read More

What Biden Can and Can't Get From an Evenly Divided Senate
U.S. Senate
What Biden Can and Can't Get From an Evenly Divided Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — So what does a 50-50 Senate get President-elect Joe Biden? Washington has barely had time to process the implications of Democratic control after two Georgia runoff elections that are delivering the Senate to Democrats. Hours after the races were decided, a mob of zealots ransacked... Read More

Fate of Biden Agenda Rests with Schumer in 50-50 Senate
U.S. Senate
Fate of Biden Agenda Rests with Schumer in 50-50 Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Chuck Schumer is used to drinking from a firehose. But the incoming Senate majority leader has never taken on such a torrent of challenges, with the opening days of both the Biden administration and Democratic control of the Senate coming at the very... Read More

GOP Senators in Spotlight as Second Impeachment Trial Looms
Impeachment
GOP Senators in Spotlight as Second Impeachment Trial Looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a second time, Republican senators face the choice of whether to convict President Donald Trump in an impeachment trial. While only one GOP senator, Utah's Mitt Romney, voted to convict Trump last year, that number could increase as lawmakers consider whether to... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top