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 McConnellAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-Ky.) and will provide President TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' 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 CruzDemocratic strategist warns Beto should be ‘careful’ with social media presence Hillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 O'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House MORE’s seat in Texas. By early Wednesday, they had toppled Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Indiana New Members 2019 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator North Dakota New Members 2019 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri New Members 2019 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship MORE (Mo.).

They also appeared poised to pick up Florida, though a spokesman for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDems seek to overhaul voting rules in Florida legal fight  Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House 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 CorkerCIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi murder: report  McConnell, Flake clash over protecting Mueller probe Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails MORE’s seat in Tennessee, with Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTennessee New Members 2019 McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues 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 CochranBooker to campaign for Dem in Mississippi Senate runoff Hyde-Smith dismisses comments about making voting harder for liberal students as a joke Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP MORE (R-Miss.), and Democratic candidate Mike Espy, a former U.S. Agriculture secretary.

The Arizona Senate race between Reps. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona New Members 2019 House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress 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) TesterCortez Masto poised to become DSCC chair Mellman: The triumph of partisanship VA under pressure to deliver Trump reforms 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 GrahamOn The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Cotton opposes Trump-backed criminal justice bill Lawmakers say California will eventually get emergency funding for fire relief 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) ManchinTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Mellman: The triumph of partisanship MORE (W.Va.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race Budowsky: Sherrod Brown should run in 2020 Sherrod Brown: If Stacey Abrams doesn't win, Republicans 'stole it' MORE (Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Democratic race for Speaker turns nasty Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Midterms: The winners and losers MORE Jr. (Pa.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Number of LGBT lawmakers in Congress hits double digits Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (Wis.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle Battle looms over funding for Trump's border wall 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) MenendezPro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty MORE (N.J.) won reelection and Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithMinnesota New Members 2019 Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority Democrat Smith wins in Minnesota, will serve remainder of Franken term MORE (Minn.) was elected to serve out the final two years of Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMinnesota New Members 2019 Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Gillibrand sidesteps question on possible Clinton 2020 run MORE’s Senate term.

And Democrats managed to flip a GOP seat as Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — House, Senate leaders named as Pelosi lobbies for support to be Speaker Nevada New Members 2019 Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February MORE (Nev.) ousted Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerCortez Masto named Dem Senate campaign chairwoman Nevada New Members 2019 Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February MORE (R), the only Republican running in a state carried by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas history curriculum to emphasize that slavery played 'central role' in Civil War Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Texas education board approves restoring Hillary Clinton in history curriculum 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.