SENATE: Republicans defy odds to keep majority

SENATE: Republicans defy odds to keep majority
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans defied the odds Tuesday and beat back Democrats’ all-out push to win the Senate majority.

The victory is a huge win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley warns Schumer to steer clear of Catholic-based criticisms of Barrett Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (R-Ky.), who took a hands-on role in crafting the defense of 24 Senate seats in what was projected to be a tough cycle for GOP incumbents. 

But many of the Senate GOP incumbents that Democrats hoped to unseat stayed afloat as Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE dramatically outperformed expectations to clinch the presidency. 

Democrats had picked up only one Republican-held seat as of 3 a.m. Wednesday, knocking off Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkLiberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Biden campaign releases video to explain 'what really happened in Ukraine' MORE in Illinois. It was a massive disappointment compared to their high hopes only a few weeks before Election Day, when they predicted a gain of as many as seven seats. 


The result was a dramatic turnabout from earlier in the day, when Senate Republican strategists gave themselves slim chances of keeping the majority and blamed Trump’s undisciplined campaign for stepping on their message. 

Democrats’ dreams of winning back the majority ultimately crumbled around 11 p.m., when media outlets called the Wisconsin race for Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose MORE (R), a seat that Democrats had for months counted as one of their best pick-up opportunities. 

In addition to Johnson, GOP incumbent Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power McConnell pushes back on Trump: 'There will be an orderly transition' MORE (Fla.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election SCOTUS confirmation in the last month of a close election? Ugly Senate to push funding bill vote up against shutdown deadline MORE (Mo.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Rep. Mark Walker says he's been contacted about Liberty University vacancy MORE (N.C.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCrenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat Analysis: Biden victory, Democratic sweep would bring biggest boost to economy The Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture MORE (Ariz.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (Ohio), all won Tuesday, along with Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate GOP eyes early exit Why the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE in Indiana. 

"Republicans won because we had better candidates, ran better campaigns, invested early and starting on day one, made every preparation to run in an uncertain and volatile political environment," said National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google MORE (Miss.).

The race in New Hampshire was too close to call at 3:15 a.m. with Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Bottom line Bottom Line MORE (R-N.H.) ahead of Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) by about 600 votes. Neither candidate appeared ready to concede early Wednesday morning. 

Republican Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy MORE, whom Democrats thought earlier in the election cycle might be vulnerable, won in Iowa. Democrats had hoped to make that race about Grassley’s role as Judiciary Committee chairman in the stalemate over the Supreme Court.

Democrats counterpunched with a victory in Illinois, where Rep. Tammy Duckworth knocked off incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk (R) to flip one seat. 

Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is projected to win in Nevada, according to the AP. That win keeps outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSupreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink The Supreme Court vacancy — yet another congressional food fight Trump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight MORE's seat in the "D" column and gave Democrats a small consolation prize.

They also held the Colorado seat, where Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE won reelection.

Democrats entered the day assuming they would need to pick up four seats to win back the majority because Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close MORE was considered such a prohibitive favorite to win the White House. By midnight, the landscape had changed. 

The results are an embarrassing setback for retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and his top deputy, New York Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' MORE (D), who thought he was poised to become the next Senate majority leader when he won reelection Tuesday night. 

Republicans were helped by surprising turnout for Trump, and a massive infusion of cash into the Senate races from donors who were disillusioned with the top of the ticket.

McConnell will get credit for recruiting rising-star Rubio to run for reelection in Florida and building a network of donors who contributed $165 million to outside groups involved in Senate races. It also appears their warnings about the consequences of a Democratic majority in the Senate helped them hold their majority.

GOP incumbent Sens. Lisa Murkowsi (Alaska), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoBottom line Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (Idaho), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package MORE, (Utah), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonDemocrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race Obama endorses Warnock in crowded Georgia Senate race Lobbying world MORE (Ga.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanCOVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' MORE (Ark.), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSupreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error MORE (S.D.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Bottom line Bipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock MORE (N.D.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (Kan.), James Lankford (Okla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRon Paul hospitalized in Texas The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Rand Paul says he can't judge 'guilt or innocence' in Breonna Taylor case MORE (Ky.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottAuthor Ryan Girdusky: RNC worked best when highlighting 'regular people' as opposed to 'standard Republicans' Now is the time to renew our focus on students and their futures GOP lobbyists pleasantly surprised by Republican convention MORE (S.C.) were projected to win their Senate races. 

Notching victories on the Democratic side were Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE(Ore.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Trump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response CDC director pushes back on Caputo claim of 'resistance unit' at agency MORE (Wash.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy MORE (Vt.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), as well as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Altogether, Republicans, including candidates, party committees and allied super PACs, spent $422 million on Senate races this cycle, according to a tally provided by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Democrats spent a total of $383 million, according to the same tally.

A Senate Republican strategist who tracks media buys provided different numbers, but they still showed the GOP with a spending advantage.

Spending by Republican candidates, party committees and super PACs totaled $473.3 million, according to that source. Democratic spending across those same categories totaled $439.5 million.

A Republican source familiar with internal spending records said the Senate Leadership Fund, a group linked to McConnell and two affiliated groups, One Nation and Granite State Solutions, raised and spent $165 million.  

McConnell also raised $5 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Some of the Democrats’ top recruits were not as strong as they initially appeared to be. 

Strategists thought former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland was well-positioned to knock off Portman, but his campaign floundered over the summer as his gubernatorial record became a serious vulnerability.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (R-Fla.) was another highly touted recruit, but his youth, thin record and misleading claims about his professional background as a certified public accountant hurt his bid against Rubio. 

Meanwhile, several Senate Republicans helped themselves by running especially effective campaigns.

In Ohio, Portman emphasized his record of accomplishment by pointing to more than 45 bills signed into law by Obama, and his campaign also recruited 2,000 volunteers who made more than 6 million voter contacts.

In Pennsylvania, Toomey artfully weaved between Trump and Clinton, knowing he had to appeal to pro-Trump voters in rural areas and pro-Clinton voters in the cities.

His campaign ran an ad in Philadelphia touting the praise of Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen.Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTrump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink Trump plans to pick Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg on court MORE (D), who applauded Toomey’s “seriousness, intellect and civility.” At the same time, it ran an ad in rural Wilkes-Barre slamming Clinton and pledging that Toomey would stop her from having a blank check.

In Florida, Rubio, who ran to the right in the Republican presidential primary earlier in the year, presented himself as more of a centrist and earned points by siding with Democrats against Republicans in the squabble over money to fight the Zika virus.

Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate in the next election cycle are slim, as they will have to defend 25 seats, including in Republican-leaning states such as Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia. 

Republicans only have to worry about eight seats in 2018.

Updated 3:20 a.m.