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 - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) and will provide President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeteran, state lawmaker launches bid against Democratic NC governor Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports Dozens of British lawmakers stand behind minority lawmakers amid Trump attacks 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 CruzGoogle official denies allegations of ties to China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Cruz in 2016 said 'something fundamentally wrong' with Christians who back Trump: book MORE’s seat in Texas. By early Wednesday, they had toppled Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Mo.).

They also appeared poised to pick up Florida, though a spokesman for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA 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 CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE’s seat in Tennessee, with Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSocial media summit highlights partisan approaches on tech Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings 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 CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE (R-Miss.), and Democratic candidate Mike Espy, a former U.S. Agriculture secretary.

The Arizona Senate race between Reps. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses 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) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out 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 GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Memo: Toxic 2020 is unavoidable conclusion from Trump tweets 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) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' MORE (W.Va.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Republicans make U-turn on health care Democrats press IRS on guidance reducing donor disclosure requirements MORE Jr. (Pa.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Planned Parenthood ousts its president | Harris releases drug pricing plan | House Dem drug plan delayed until after recess Health care needs transparency, and President Trump is making progress MORE (Wis.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowUSDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City GOP Senate challenger in Michigan raises .5 million in less than a month It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices 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) MenendezPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House MORE (N.J.) won reelection and Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithClean water or mining pollution for the nation's favorite wilderness? Hillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups Senate Democrats press regulators over reported tech investigations MORE (Minn.) was elected to serve out the final two years of Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTrump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions Al Franken: It's time to start taking Trump 'literally' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Mexican officials scramble to avoid Trump tariffs MORE’s Senate term.

And Democrats managed to flip a GOP seat as Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding 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 ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine 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.