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Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states

Control of the Senate is in limbo after neither party won an outright majority of seats as of early Wednesday morning.

The biggest unresolved questions as election night turned into Wednesday morning are who will win in North Carolina and Maine, two toss-up races where the Republican incumbents have single-digit leads but a substantial portion of votes have yet to be counted.

Democrats defeated Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R) in Colorado and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal McGuire unveils Arizona Senate campaign MORE (R) in Arizona, but lost ground when Democratic Sen. Doug Jones lost to former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in Alabama early on election night.

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As things now stand, Republicans are in a strong position to keep their Senate majority, withstanding pollsters and handicappers who predicted a blue wave would give Democrats control of both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2010.

Republicans now hold 53 seats, which means with Jones’s loss that Democrats need to defeat four Republican incumbents, including McSally and Gardner, and win the White House to flip the Senate — or defeat five GOP incumbents for an outright majority. 

If Trump wins a second term, a Senate Republican majority will allow him to continue stocking the federal judiciary with conservative judges and filling his Cabinet and administration with little pushback.

If Joe BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE is elected president, his agenda will have a tough time getting off the ground if Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCan Manchin answer his predecessor's call on voting rights? Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' Democrats' narrow chance to retain control after 2022 MORE (R-Ky.), a self-described “grim reaper” of liberal policy proposals, is in charge of the upper chamber.

McConnell, while acknowledging the Senate battle remained in limbo, took a victory lap in Kentucky late Tuesday night.

"Kentucky wants more of the policies that built the best economy in modern history, not socialism that would stifle prosperity. ... We want to continue rebuilding our military and leading around the world," McConnell said.

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He also appeared to take veiled shots at top progressive goals, including talk of nixing the legislative filibuster and expanding the Supreme Court.

"This is no time to tear down statues of our founders and heroes. ... This is no time to declare war on our institutions because one side is angry," McConnell said.

Republicans scored a major victory shortly after midnight when Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, was declared the winner of the Iowa Senate race, a top Democratic target.

As the clock ticked past 2 a.m. ET, Republican Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisBill ending federal unemployment supplement passes North Carolina legislature Senate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE was leading his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham by nearly 2 percentage points with an estimated 94 percent of the vote reported.

In Maine, GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP torpedoes election bill; infrastructure talks hit snag White House digs in as infrastructure talks stall MORE was leading Democratic nominee Sara Gideon with 50.8 percent of the vote to Gideon’s 42.5 percent with nearly 50 percent of the votes counted just before 3 a.m. Collins has to stay above 50 percent to avoid the race being decided by ranked-choice of voters who did not pick either candidate as their first choice.

In 2018, then-GOP Rep. Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinTrump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE was leading but short of a majority, only to lose after the 2nd Congressional District race went to ranked choice.

Biden is projected to win Maine but not by as large a margin as polls predicted and Democrats expected. He was leading Trump 52 percent to 45 percent with an estimated 58 percent of the vote reported.

Collins was spotted by reporters dancing to “Still the One” and said she was “encouraged” by the early results. Gideon sent out a statement predicting it would take days to know who won the key Senate race.

“It’s clear this race will not be called tonight and we are prepared to see it through to the finish. Over the coming days, we will make sure that every Mainer has their voice heard in this election,” Gideon said.

The Associated Press officially called the Arizona race for Kelly just after 3 a.m. EST on Wednesday, handing Democrats their second victory of the night. The victory from Kelly and Biden underscores just how much the state has shifted in recent years. 

Kelly, speaking at an event in Arizona just before midnight Eastern time, appeared confident he would ultimately prevail. Kelly can be seated as soon as this month and it would be the first time Arizona has had two Democratic senators since the 1950s. 

“I am very humbled to be here and I am also confident that when the votes are counted that we're going to be successful in this mission,” Kelly told supporters.

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But losing the Iowa Senate race is a blow to Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE’s (D-N.Y.) hopes of becoming majority leader. The prospect of losing in North Carolina on top of Iowa narrows the Democratic path to the majority significantly.

Democrats are still waiting to find out if Democratic Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup | Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border | John McAfee dies Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border Harris casts tiebreaking vote to confirm OPM nominee MORE will hold on in Michigan, where Republicans are hoping for an upset. GOP nominee John James has been leading since polls closed but as of 3 a.m. a significant portion of the votes remain uncounted.

Democrats are poised to suffer another setback in Georgia where Trump was leading Biden 52 percent to 46.7 percent with an estimated 82 percent of the vote reported.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) was leading Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by nearly 7 percentage points — 52.4 percent to 45.3 percent — with an estimated 86 percent of the vote reported. Democrats noted that some of the uncounted votes are in expected strongholds for the party.

In a spot of good news for Democrats, though not unexpected, pastor Raphael Warnock (D) advanced to a Jan. 5 runoff against Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Herschel Walker skips Georgia's GOP convention Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock MORE (R-Ga.). They won 31.7 percent and 26.5 percent of the early returns, respectively.

The candidates in both Senate races had to win 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

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The better-than-expected results from Republicans comes even after top Senate groups were getting outspent overall and in key races by their Democratic counterparts.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which has ties to McConnell, spent $35.5 million on TV and radio ads between Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, according to data from Advertising Analytics, compared with $37.75 million during the same time period for the Senate Majority PAC, its Democratic counterpart. The Democrats also outspent Republicans on ads in Georgia, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, while the Senate Leadership Fund spent more in Montana, Michigan and South Carolina. 

Senate Republicans were viewed as underdogs heading in to Election Day. They had to defend 23 seats while Democrats only had to worry about 12 seats up for election.

The most competitive races were in states with Republican incumbents: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

As the night wore on, the Democratic pick-up opportunities shrunk as Republicans racked up wins.

The Associated Press called the Montana race for Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (R) at 1:49 a.m. ET. He defeated Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockArkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association Biden 'allies' painting him into a corner Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run MORE, who was one of Schumer’s highly prized recruits.

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Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure MORE (R-S.C.) and John CornynJohn CornynSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Cornyn calls on Biden and Harris to visit southern border: 'Y'all come visit' Progressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster MORE (R-Texas) were also declared the winners of their races.

Jessica Taylor from The Cook Political Report, which predicted Democrats could pick up anywhere between two and seven seats, indicated early Wednesday morning that Republicans appear favored to retain the majority.

“I have a very hard time right now seeing how Democrats win back the Senate,” she tweeted.