Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority

Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans expanded their 51-seat majority on Tuesday, overcoming historic political headwinds that cost their party the House.

The results in key battleground races mark a major victory for the caucus and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE (R-Ky.) and will provide President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE with a GOP firewall in Congress as emboldened House Democrats are itching to launch new investigations into the administration.

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Republicans quickly dashed any Democratic hopes of flipping the Senate by defeating two red-state incumbents and holding onto Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE’s seat in Texas. By early Wednesday, they had toppled Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Gary Cohn criticizes the shutdown: 'Completely wrong' EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (Mo.).

They also appeared poised to pick up Florida, though a spokesman for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida MORE (D-Fla.) said Wednesday morning that the three-term senator had not conceded to Gov. Rick Scott (R).

“Based on numerous media reports the U.S. Senate race has been called for Rick Scott. This obviously is not the result Senator Nelson and his campaign had worked so hard for. The Senator will be making a full statement tomorrow to thank all those who rallied to our cause,” Nelson's campaign said in a statement.

In addition to preventing an upset in Texas, Republicans held onto retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE’s seat in Tennessee, with Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military MORE (R-Tenn.) easily defeating former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

The end result will give Republicans at least a 52-seat majority starting in January, with the potential to add additional seats in the coming weeks.

A special election in Mississippi is headed to a Nov. 27 runoff between Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who was appointed to succeed retiring Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (R-Miss.), and Democratic candidate Mike Espy, a former U.S. Agriculture secretary.

The Arizona Senate race between Reps. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally Schumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is not expected to be called until later this week since more ballots need to be counted to break the statistical tie.

And Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (D-Mont.), after leading in election results for most of Tuesday night, had fallen behind GOP challenger Matt Rosendale as of 2 a.m. EST on Wednesday.

But even if Democrats win in Arizona, Montana and Mississippi, it won’t be enough to flip control of the Senate. The best possible outcome for Democrats would be a 52-48 Republican majority.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Democrats were able to turn a Democratic “tsunami into a ripple.”

"With gains in the Senate, Republicans defied history, an achievement reached only four times in history,” she said, referencing the rarity of the president’s party picking up Senate seats during the first midterm in a presidency.

The GOP’s path to keeping, and even expanding, its Senate majority was aided mightily by a favorable map that saw Republicans defending nine seats compared to 26 for Democrats, 10 of which were in states won by Trump in 2016.

Heitkamp’s race was expected to end up in Republican hands, and a few other seats held by Democrats were locked in a statistical tie heading into Election Day.

As control of the House appeared to fade for Republicans in recent weeks, Trump homed in on Senate races, barnstorming through key states that would determine if Republicans would be able to keep and expand their majority in the chamber.

McConnell and Trump spoke on Tuesday night amid the favorable election results, a spokesman for the Senate GOP leader confirmed, and McConnell thanked the president for his help in picking up seats.

McConnell also took a victory lap on Tuesday night, with his campaign account tweeting a GIF of the GOP leader smiling.

The two men have touted their relationship during the midterm campaign, a stark turnaround from the summer of 2017, when they were locked in a public war of words after the failed ObamaCare vote.

Aside from setting up a competitive Senate fight in 2020, the expanded majority could pay dividends for Republicans starting next year.

Though long-held GOP goals like repealing ObamaCare are off the table with a Democratically controlled House, Republicans will have a smoother path to confirming controversial Trump nominees as senators brace for a massive post-midterm Cabinet shake-up.

"When the GOP maintains control of the Senate, the conservative judicial train is going to keep running!" GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (S.C.), who could be the next Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a tweet.

Several Trump picks have been thwarted by the narrow Senate majority that effectively gives moderate GOP senators the power to make or break their nomination. A larger majority will change that dynamic.

Tuesday wasn’t without some bright spots for Senate Democrats, who worked throughout the cycle to limit their liabilities.

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (W.Va.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell Brown2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story MORE (Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Dem senator references 'The Office' when posting job for Scranton regional manager  Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 MORE Jr. (Pa.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne Baldwin116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema swears in to Congress using copy of Constitution instead of religious book Dems say Trump is defying court order by pushing abstinence programs MORE (Wis.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Dems raise concerns about shutdown's impact on assistance to taxpayers Durbin signals he will run for reelection Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee MORE (Mich.), each won reelection in states that voted for Trump in 2016.

Democrats also staved off GOP upsets in New Jersey and Minnesota: Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president More oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems MORE (N.J.) won reelection and Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithGillibrand defends calling for Franken to resign during stop in Iowa Senate Dems introduce legislation to back-pay low-wage contractors GOP seeks health care reboot after 2018 losses MORE (Minn.) was elected to serve out the final two years of Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Gillibrand defends calling for Franken to resign during stop in Iowa MORE’s Senate term.

And Democrats managed to flip a GOP seat as Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenInflux of women in Congress can improve women’s retirement security Overnight Health Care: DOJ seeks extension in ObamaCare lawsuit due to shutdown | Poll finds voters oppose court ruling against health law Press: White House not only for white males MORE (Nev.) ousted Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R), the only Republican running in a state carried by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Russian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies MORE in 2016. Rosen's victory is a significant bright spot in an otherwise bitter election night for Senate Democrats and comes after the party swept the state in 2016.