Republicans were putting up an unexpectedly tough fight to protect their majority in the US Senate on Tuesday, with winners declared in nine Senate races and Democrats making a net gain of only one seat so far. Several other key races were still seen as too close to call as polls began to close on Election Day. Party dominance in Congress will be a crucial determinant of the policy-making outlook for the next president, whether it is Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.
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Democrats picked up their first seat from Republicans as US Representative Tammy Duckworth, as expected, defeated Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois, according to the major TV networks. Duckworth is a double-amputee Iraq war veteran. With her victory, Democrats need to pick up four more seats from Republicans in order to win a majority in the Senate.
The networks projected that in Indiana, former Senator Evan Bayh failed in his bid to return to the Senate, losing to Republican Representative Todd Young. The two candidates had been vying to replace Republican Dan Coates, who retired. Bayh’s loss was a missed opportunity for Democrats to gain a seat.
In Florida, incumbent Senator Marco Rubio, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year, was declared the winner and re-elected to a second term.
In North Carolina, Republican Senator Richard Burr held only a 2 percentage point lead over his opponent, Deborah Ross, according to polling website RealClearPolitics.com.
Similarly close races seen as “toss-ups” were under way in Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Indiana. Major TV networks said Republican Senator Rob Portman, who had refused to campaign with Trump, was re-elected in Ohio.
Also projected as winners by the networks, as expected, were Republican Senators Rand Paul in Kentucky, Tim Scott in South Carolina, James Lankford in Oklahoma, as well as Democrats Patrick Leahy in Vermont and Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut.
Republicans have controlled the 100-seat Senate since 2015, but they had to defend far more seats this year than did the Democrats. Some analysts have raised the possibility of the 2016 election season ending with a 50-50 split in the Senate. In such an outcome, the new US vice president – either Democrat Tim Kaine or Republican Mike Pence – would be the tiebreaker in the Senate and determine control of that chamber.
DEMOCRATS NEED FIVE-SEAT GAIN
To win Senate control, Democrats would have to score a net, five-seat gain. Republicans hold 54 Senate seats to 44 Democratic seats and two independents who align with Democrats. Republicans were expected to hold their six-year-long majority in the House of Representatives, although probably with fewer seats. That would likely give Democrats more of a say in legislation when the new Congress is sworn in on January 3.
Projections from the New York Times and forecasting website FiveThirtyEight.com showed Democrats with just over a 50 percent likelihood of having Senate control when it convenes on January 3. An analysis by political scientist Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” project at the University of Virginia said the election would end with Democrats and Republicans each holding 50 seats.
Continued Republican dominance in Congress could stymie any legislative agenda pursued by Clinton, if she is elected. A Trump victory, with a Republican Congress, could spell a swift demise for Democratic President Barack Obama’s health reforms.
Even a Republican majority could be divided against itself, with party members disagreeing on issues such as whether to give a Supreme Court nominee a confirmation vote. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican in a close re-election fight, appealed to independents on Tuesday with a video saying: “It’s going to take someone who can stand up to both parties when they’re taking us in the wrong direction.”