FEATURED:

McConnell wins, spares GOP major loss

Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE appears to have won a fifth Senate term, sparing his party a devastating loss on a tough Election Day.

 

McConnell's win in Kentucky over Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford makes it harder for Democrats to reach 60 seats in the Senate, which would give them enormous power to push through legislation. 

ADVERTISEMENT

With nearly 50 percent of precincts reporting, McConnell is holding a 51-to-49 percent lead over Lunsford, prompting Fox News to call the race for the Republican. If McCain loses Tuesday night, McConnell will likely emerge as the most powerful Republican in Washington as the Senate minority leader. 

Democrats have already picked up three Senate seats Tuesday, expanding their majority to 54-46, with a host of races still to be decided.

Dragged down by the economic slump, McConnell suddenly found himself in a tight race against Lunsford in a reliably Republican state that he won with 64 percent of the vote in 2002.

Despite big GOP losses on his watch, McConnell — along with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans MORE (Tenn.) — will likely hang onto the top three leadership spots in the conference next year, according to many GOP aides and senators. 

Unlike the House GOP, Senate Republican leaders are unlikely to be blamed for the possible landslide loss on Tuesday. Already, the Senate GOP has blamed their losses on a deeply unpopular president, the sagging economy and a steep disadvantage in the number of GOP seats to defend this cycle.

“I think everybody understands the conditions we are running in,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (R-Texas), who is expected to win his race Tuesday, said in an interview.  “I don’t see any blowback directed at them.”

Democrats currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate and have already picked up seats in Virginia, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Democrats are also favored to pick up open Senate seats in Colorado and New Mexico.

Polling has found Democratic challengers ahead in three other states: Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon.

In Alaska’s Senate race, Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in history, is trying to hold onto his seat despite his conviction last month on felony charges of concealing gifts from an oil executive. Polls close at midnight in the eastern part of the state and 1 a.m. in the western part.

Both sides have paid close attention to McConnell’s race and two in the Deep South, at least one of which Democrats must win to reach 60 seats: Georgia’s contest in the seat held by Republican Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissA hard look at America after 9/11 Lobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill MORE and Mississippi’s seat held by Republican Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Shipping companies want Congress to increase shipping truck size Ricin attacks will continue MORE. Polls in Georgia close at 7 p.m., and Mississippi's close at 8 p.m.

All times are EST.

In a new Congress with a powerful Democratic majority and a possible Democratic president, the GOP leadership team would immediately face a choice: whether to work closely in a bipartisan fashion or resort to confrontational tactics.

If McCain loses, McConnell will be under enormous pressure to lead his party out of the wilderness.

“All the rhetoric will be ‘can we all get along,’ but he’ll be under incredible pressure to come back and be confrontational,” one former GOP leadership aide said.

Many Republicans expect McConnell to emerge as a more focused leader next Congress, since his strategy this year was often complicated by his own reelection fight and the GOP keeping its distance from President Bush.

Some argue that showcasing bipartisanship will win over voters, pointing to the election-year success of some Republicans, like Alexander, who largely shied away from sharp partisan rhetoric and instead promoted working across the aisle.

But that strategy would partly be determined by how a President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations MORE and Speaker Nancy Pelosi decide to govern – whether they negotiate with the GOP or attempt to railroad legislation through with their robust majority.

Republicans view that scenario as a political boon, since it would unify a broken Republican Party, similar to how President Bush’s failed attempt to overhaul Social Security unified Democrats after they lost the 2004 elections.

“The best thing they can do for the Republicans is to immediately try to ram through tax hikes, more spending and not try to work with Republicans to find common ground,” one senior Senate GOP aide said.

If Democrats fall just short of 60 seats in Tuesday’s election, the strength of GOP centrists will enormously increase since Democrats will likely try to negotiate with the small number of remaining liberal Republicans in order to get enough support for their policy measures in the Senate.

But if McCain pulls off an upset win, the GOP leadership may be cast aside altogether as the Republican president negotiates with a powerful Democratic majority in order to get legislation to his desk.

“If Sen. McCain is president, then they are going to be in a very, very difficult position since Sen. McCain will want bipartisan compromises,” one GOP strategist said.

With McConnell's win, the only anticipated leadership fight will be for the No. 4 position of GOP policy chairman and No. 5 spot as conference vice chairman. The current conference vice chairman, Cornyn, plans to run for the head of the campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) plans to relinquish to run for the policy position. That will open up a fight for the No. 5 spot, possibly between Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThrough a national commitment to youth sports, we can break the obesity cycle Florida politics play into disaster relief debate GOP chairman: FEMA has enough money for Hurricane Michael MORE (R-S.D.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEx-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Flake on Kavanaugh confirmation: To see GOP 'spiking the ball in the end zone' doesn't seem right MORE (R-Alaska).

If Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) wins Tuesday against comedian Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMeet the man poised to battle Dems from the White House Minnesota GOP Senate candidate compared Michelle Obama to a chimp in Facebook post Former campaign aide to New Jersey governor says she was sexually assaulted by his ex-staffer MORE, he is expected to challenge Cornyn for the NRSC chairmanship.

Leadership elections will be held the week of Nov. 17, when the 110th Congress returns for a brief lame-duck session.