Democrats had high hopes of regaining control of the Senate in a wave election that would catapult Hillary Clinton into the White House — but it doesn’t appear to be working out that way.
As Donald Trump remarkably surged toward the 270 electoral votes he needs to claim the presidency, the Democrats’ prospects of picking up the four or five Republican-held seats needed to regain a majority in the Senate faded.
If Trump does win, that would give him a Republican Congress to work with — and would likely leave the newly re-elected New York Sen. Chuck Schumer leading Senate Democratic efforts to stymie a Trump agenda.
The Democrats got off to a reasonably good but not surprising start when Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a highly decorated veteran who lost both legs flying a helicopter in Iraq in 2004, easily defeated Republican Sen. Mark Kirk to claim the first Republican seat. Kirk, who has used a wheel chair since suffering a stroke in 2012, ran an inept campaign and was deemed the most vulnerable Republican in the country.
But the Democratic drive for a majority in the Senate began to derail almost immediately, when Republican Rep. Todd Young of Indiana soundly defeated former Democratic senator Evan Bayh in a race to fill a seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Dan Coats. Bayh last summer loomed as a sure thing to win the open seat, especially with his $10 million campaign war chest. But Young, a former Marine, pummeled Bayh as a political “insider” who had earned millions of dollars through his Washington connections and seats on corporate boards.
Incumbent Republican senators from New Hampshire, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all had begun the day as underdogs, but the situation grew more desperate for the Democrats as the evening went on and Trump continued to gather steam.
GOP Sen. Richard Burr, a veteran lawmaker, had struggled to overcome his image as another political insider in a year when voters preferred outsiders like the billionaire Trump. Burr appeared to benefit from Trump’s strong showing in North Carolina as he successfully fended off a challenge by Deborah Ross, a former state legislator.
Meanwhile, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin were making strong showings against tough Democratic challengers — although the outcomes were still in doubt. Ayotte was in a see-saw battle with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan; Toomey was locked in a close fight with Democrat Katie McGinty, who was helped by Clinton’s strong showing in their state; Blunt was running ahead of Democrat Jason Kander; and Johnson appears to have defeated former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
In Florida, meanwhile, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio easily won reelection after giving a lukewarm endorsement to Trump, his rival during the Republican presidential primary. And in Ohio, Republican Sen. Rob Portman soundly defeated former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, as expected.
One Democratic seat also looked to be in danger: that of retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Republicans are defending 24 seats while Democrats must protect only 10.
It will be a while before the final vote tallies are in late tonight or early tomorrow, but for now the Democrats’ quest for a majority is looking problematic at best.