- McCain, Rubio and other senators fended off challenges
- GOP Senate majority can shape makeup of Supreme Court
Republicans clinched effective control of the Senate, dealing Democrats a stunning setback.
Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin all won re-election, and Representative Todd Young defeated Democrats’ star recruit, former Senator Evan Bayh. The victories come as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was performing unexpectedly well in several battleground states, setting up the possibility of a clean sweep for Republicans on Election Day that would give them control of the Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court.
Democrats gained a seat in Illinois as Representative Tammy Duckworth ousted incumbent Mark Kirk, according to media projections.
But Democrats weren’t able to overcome a strong slate of GOP candidates who ran effective campaigns. And the Trump backlash predicted by Democrats wasn’t as significant as expected. Rubio’s decision to run for Senate after an all-hands-on-deck recruitment effort by GOP leaders also dramatically boosted their prospects for keeping hold of the chamber. Republican Rob Portman of Ohio also cruised to re-election in a race that was once expected to be close.
The outcome gives Republicans significant leverage when it comes to implementing a Trump agenda or reining in a President Hillary Clinton. It also gives them a huge voice in the pending Supreme Court vacancy.
The presidential race has played havoc with Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress this year. Trump’s sky-high disapproval ratings in particular had Senate Republicans working to establish independence by running on state and local issues.
Republican candidates were reeling after the release of a 2005 video that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women, with several taking back their endorsements of Trump and trying to distance themselves. But the polls quickly swung back in favor of more Republicans amid FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 disclosure that he revived an investigation of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. Nine days later, Comey closed the probe again.
Republicans currently hold a 54-46 majority.
Every seat in the U.S. House is also at stake on Tuesday. The Republicans were on track to keep control of the House, where they currently have their largest majority in more than 80 years. Democrats are expected to pick up somewhere between five and 15 seats, which would narrow the GOP’s margin.
At stake is what legislation Congress will consider in 2017 when immigration policy, banking regulation and tax rates are likely to be on the agenda, regardless of whether Clinton or Trump becomes president. Control of the Senate also could help shape the future of the Supreme Court for years to come. The late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat remains vacant, and three justices age 78 or older will be on retirement watch.
In the Senate, the prevailing party likely will have a majority of just a seat or two, well short of the 60 votes needed to overcome filibusters that can kill legislation or block a high court nomination. A 50-50 split would hand control to the party that wins the presidency, with the vice president able to cast tie-breaking votes.
In Indiana, Bayh, a former Democratic senator and two-term governor, made a surprise July entry into the race for the seat held by retiring Republican Senator Dan Coats. But Young pulled closer in recent polls, buoyed in part by the popularity in the state of Trump and his running mate, current Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
In Florida, Rubio was defending his seat against Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy. Rubio also was a late entry, announcing his run in June after a trouncing by Trump in Florida’s presidential primary drove the senator out of that campaign. Rubio led in late polling and Murphy was hampered by the Democratic Party’s decision to pull television advertising dollars.
In an otherwise disastrous evening for Democrats, they did manage to salvage Harry Reid’s Senate seat, with Catherine Cortez Masto defeating Representative Joe Heck, making her the first Latina to ever win a Senate seat.
One Republican senator remains in a race still too close to call: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Several senators cruised to easy re-elections, including Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Schumer of New York, and Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina. In Maryland, Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen easily won a Senate seat.
The outcome in at least one race won’t be known for weeks. The Louisiana Senate race will go to a runoff Dec. 10 to replace Republican David Vitter, with Republican state treasurer John Kennedy to face Democrat Foster Campbell. Kennedy will be heavily favored to win the seat.