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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 GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE (R) in Colorado and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' 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 BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE is elected president, his agenda will have a tough time getting off the ground if Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight 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 ErnstThe Memo: Trump plows ahead with efforts to overturn election More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Peggy Noonan: 'Bogus dispute' by Trump 'doing real damage' 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 TillisNorth Carolina — still purple but up for grabs Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection 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 CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right 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 SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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 PetersRepublican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff 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 LoefflerFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns 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 DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (R) at 1:49 a.m. ET. He defeated Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE, who was one of Schumer’s highly prized recruits.

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Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.) and John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results 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.