Tuesday is turning into a big night for congressional Republicans, who are increasingly closing down Democrats’ path to the five Senate seats they need to tip the chamber’s balance of power and claim the majority.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson — left for dead for months by national Republicans — staged a dramatic comeback, holding off Russ Feingold in a race that was crucial to Democrats’ hopes of a majority.
In North Carolina, Sen. Richard Burr will be re-elected, CNN projects, as Republicans cheer the surprisingly strong showing by presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Democrats now need to win every remaining Senate battleground to have a shot at a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by the party that wins the presidency.
Republicans currently have 48 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 45.
The GOP will hold onto majority control of the House, CNN projects.
Democrats have picked up one seat in Illinois. But their path is increasingly narrow, and an election that looked bright for them coming in appears full of lost opportunities.
At this point, Democrats need to win four seats to win the Senate, providing they hold on to Nevada as well. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring but using his political machine to boost his hand-chosen successor, Catherine Cortez Masto, against Republican Rep. Joe Heck.
Should the Senate end up 50-50, the vice president — Mike Pence or Tim Kaine — would break the tie for their party.
In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio — whose late decision to seek re-election after his failed presidential bid was a boon to the GOP’s chances of keeping the Senate — will best Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, CNN projects. Republican Sen. Rob Portman will also win re-election in Ohio, CNN projects. He ran what’s likely the best Republican campaign of the cycle — turning what was expected to be a close race with Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland into a likely blowout.
Indiana delivered major a blow to Democrats’ hopes. Former governor and senator Evan Bayh’s late entry was expected to turn the state into a guaranteed pickup — but scrutiny over his residency and lobbying work catapulted Republican Rep. Todd Young to victory, CNN projects.
Democrats picked off one of the five seats they need when Tammy Duckworth defeated Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois. That race was always a challenge for Kirk, who won Illinois in the 2010 Tea Party wave in the mid-term elections.
Standing with Trump = win?
Republicans who stood with Trump — particularly Wisconsin’s Johnson, who rallied with him when House Speaker Paul Ryan didn’t; North Carolina’s Burr; and Missouri’s Blunt — were outperforming expectations.
Those who distanced themselves from the GOP nominee, meanwhile, were faltering. Kirk, who wrote in David Petraeus rather than voting for Trump, was the first Republican to lose his Senate seat Tuesday night. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania waited until an hour before polls closed to announce he had voted for Trump, and was trailing Democratic challenger Katie McGinty.
Control of the Senate will be key to the early successes of a Trump or Clinton administration.
For Clinton, a Democratic Senate would represent a counterbalance to a House Republican conference that has fiercely attacked her on the campaign trail — even as some of its members have sought distance from Trump.
There’s also the more immediate impact: If Clinton wins and Democrats seize control of the Senate, Republicans could reverse months of resistance to confirming President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and move quickly to approve him before Obama leaves office.
For Trump, a GOP Senate and House would, in theory, let Republicans swiftly pass legislation that reverses many of Obama’s policies.
House GOP wins
Tuesday’s results mean House Speaker Paul Ryan will maintain his party’s majority — though with a conference that could be smaller than its current 246 seats. He could face pressure to move to the right, with fewer votes he can afford to lose to keep the GOP bloc intact.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s recent troubles, including the late focus on her email server, may have hurt Democrats down ballot.
House Democrats remain frustrated with FBI Director James Comey, who made a revelation 11 days before the election that the bureau was once again looking into emails potentially tied to its investigation of Clinton. Democrats believe his announcement provided down-ballot Republicans an opportunity to shift topics and attack Clinton, rather than defend Trump.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Comey “became the leading political operative in the country — wittingly or unwittingly.”
Pelosi blamed Comey for costing Democrats a shot at winning Republican seats across the country, saying he created “more of an obstacle that we hope to overcome” but adding, “it’s difficult.”
Republicans holding their own
Republicans faced a daunting task at the outset of the 2016 election cycle: They held 24 of the 34 seats on the ballot — meaning many more to defend.
But strong GOP candidates have helped the party pull some contests in presidential swing states off the board.
In Florida, Rubio’s loss in the presidential primary turned out to be the GOP’s gain, as he held onto that seat.
In Georgia, Sen. Johnny Isakson was struggling earlier in the year, but he will defeat Democratic challenger Jim Barksdale, CNN projects.
Two more Republicans who were expected to be safe — Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr — have fumbled, finding themselves in much more competitive races than expected.
In North Carolina, Burr’s late fundraising start — combined with the Clinton campaign’s focus there — allowed Democrat Ross to turn the state into a toss-up, but he won impressively.
And in Missouri, Secretary of State Jason Kander has run one of the strongest Democratic campaigns — punctuated by a TV spot that featured the military veteran rebutting attack ads from the National Rifle Association by assembling an AR-15 rifle while blindfolded. If Blunt survives, he could be the rare Senate Republican who was helped by Trump, who is expected to carry Missouri easily.
Along with Rubio, two other former GOP presidential candidates also won their Senate re-election bids, CNN projects. Sen. Rand Paul won in Kentucky, as did 2008 nominee John McCain in Arizona.