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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-Ky.) and will provide President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' 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 CruzThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Senate GOP votes to permanently ban earmarks Jim Carrey fires back at 'Joe McCarthy wanna-be' Cruz MORE’s seat in Texas. By early Wednesday, they had toppled Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Obama honors 'American statesman' Richard Lugar Former GOP senator Richard Lugar dies at 87 MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Big Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill MORE (Mo.).

They also appeared poised to pick up Florida, though a spokesman for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems 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 CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' MORE’s seat in Tennessee, with Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity 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 McSallyOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Senate defense bill would make military sexual harassment standalone crime 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) TesterThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war 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 GrahamNew Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes Graham: 'US must be willing to intervene in Venezuela' Trump Jr. slams Republican committee chairman: 'Too weak to stand up to the Democrats' 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) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners MORE (W.Va.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Lawmakers grapple with the future of America's workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick Casey2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Why Congress needs to bring back tax deduction for worker expenses Biden cements spot as 2020 front-runner MORE Jr. (Pa.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWarren vows to fight 'tooth and nail' for LGBTQ protections as president This week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE (Wis.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  Dems want climate change, tax hikes in infrastructure deal Critics accuse EPA of weakening pollution rule for Pentagon 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) MenendezEnding the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (N.J.) won reelection and Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithWhat if scientists, not politicians, called the shots on climate policy GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (Minn.) was elected to serve out the final two years of Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenStudy finds misconduct is the top reason CEOs are leaving large companies Hirono electrifies left as Trump antagonist Miss USA pageant winner celebrated for addressing 'Me Too' movement on stage MORE’s Senate term.

And Democrats managed to flip a GOP seat as Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenLawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding Dem lawmakers accuse DHS, HHS of giving them misleading information on family separations This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report MORE (Nev.) ousted Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R), the only Republican running in a state carried by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Poll: Nearly half of Clinton's former supporters back Biden Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 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.