Five takeaways from the battle for the Senate
The battle for control of the Senate won’t be decided until two runoff Senate elections are held in Georgia on Jan. 5 but the expectation on both sides of the aisle is that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will remain majority leader and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will spend another two years in the minority.
While party control of the chamber is expected to remain the same, the dynamic has changed with President-elect Joe Biden to take office, although not with the mandate that Democrats expected — and some Republicans feared — from a blue wave.
The Republican majority will be at least one seat smaller, as Democrats knocked off Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), while Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) also lost his bid for reelection. Right now, McConnell hopes to have a 52-seat majority, depending on the outcome in Georgia.
Democrat Cal Cunningham hasn’t yet conceded to Sen. Thom Tillis (R) yet in North Carolina, but he’s been given little chance of catching up in the vote count.
Georgia will decide the majority
If the parties split the two seats in Georgia, then the GOP majority will be 51. If Democrats sweep the state, they can control a 50-50 majority, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) will face journalist Jon Ossoff and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) will match up against pastor Raphael Warnock.
Biden is leading the presidential vote count in Georgia, which Democrats see as an encouraging sign for the Senate races.
But Democratic aides and strategists concede it will be very difficult to win both races in a traditionally Republican state to make Schumer majority leader and give Democrats unified control of the White House and Congress.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will be major players
Collins, who won with 51.1 percent of the vote in Maine as of Friday afternoon, emerges as the one of the biggest winners of the 2020 election.
Despite lagging in public polls for months, she wound up beating Democrat Sara Gideon with nearly 9 percent of the vote.
Collins is a well-known moderate and a make-or-break vote on many issues next year. She was the only Republican to vote against Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on the final confirmation vote, and she voted with GOP colleagues to extend Trump’s impeachment trial and hear more evidence earlier this year.
The big question is whether Schumer, who gunned hard for Collins’s seat this cycle, will be able to convince her to support items on the Democratic agenda.
Murkowski is another key moderate. She voted against bringing Barrett’s nomination to the floor before the election but supported her on the final confirmation vote.
Murkowski, who kept her seat by waging an independent write-in campaign in the 2010 general election, is up for reelection in 2022.
She can be expected to support middle-of-the-road proposals such as infrastructure spending but she faces voters next cycle in a state Trump is projected to win and that could weigh on her enthusiasm for Democratic proposals coming from the House.
Murkowski has battled to pass significant energy legislation this year and with government control divided, her priorities could get more attention as Biden, McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) look for common ground.
Whether Republicans keep their majority as expected or Democrats defy the odds by winning both races in Georgia, Collins and Murkowski will be key players.
Democrats will have to rethink strategy
Democrats were confident enough of winning the Senate majority that they talked about filibuster reform and threatened to retaliate against Republicans for confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court before Election Day.
Democrats raised record amounts of money and recruited a group of highly touted candidates.
Republicans had to defend 23 seats while Democrats only had to protect 12.
Senate Republicans were running into the headwinds of a weak economy, a pandemic and a president with low approval numbers. Yet, Democrats still failed to win the majority.
Schumer has had three chances to win back the Senate majority in 2016, 2018 and 2020, and come up short each time.
His colleagues are getting impatient with life in the minority and will have to think long and hard about how to break their losing streak. The first midterm of a new president is usually bad for the president’s party, which could spell trouble for Democrats in 2022 if Biden is inaugurated in January.
Money and public polls were overrated
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $244 million compared to the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s $220 million yet fell short of winning the majority.
Jaime Harrison, the Democratic candidate for South Carolina, raised $109 million while Amy McGrath, the Democrat who took on McConnell in Kentucky, raised $90 million, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.
Yet they wound up losing to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and McConnell by 10 and 20 points, respectively.
Gideon raised $69.5 million in Maine compared to Collins’s $27 million, according to the FEC, and lost by 9 points.
Trump helped Republicans in some states, not in others
While Trump was generally portrayed in the media as a boat anchor around the necks of Senate Republicans up for reelection, he may have helped them win by turning out the vote in Iowa and North Carolina, which he visited before Election Day.
McConnell credited Trump’s barnstorming around the country as a key factor in motivating GOP voters to turn out in huge numbers on Nov. 3, which may have saved the Senate GOP majority.
“I think the president ran a heck of a race,” he said. “I think it also helped us in our Senate races, the places — with the exception of Maine — the places where we have the best chance of winning are the places where it looks like he won.”
But Trump appeared to hurt Gardner and McSally, particularly in the suburbs. Collins, who ran in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, defied that trend because of her strong brand as an independent forged over more than two decades in the Senate.
McConnell said Republicans need to focus on two things going into the next election, raising money from small-dollar donors and appealing to women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.
“I think we need to win back the suburbs, we need to do better with college-educated voters than we’re doing lately and we need to do better with women,” he said.
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