On election night, Democrats won one in Colorado by unseating Sen. Cory Gardner (R). But that was immediately offset by Sen. Doug Jones (D) losing in Alabama. Democrats look on track to pick up another seat in Arizona. But that still leaves them at least two seats short.
And with relative ease on election night and in the morning after, Senate Republicans closed Democrats’ path to pick up those seats. Susan Collins (R) in Maine said Wednesday afternoon that her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, called her to concede one of the hardest-fought Senate races of 2020. Steve Daines (R) held on and won reelection in Montana. Joni Ernst (R) was reelected in Iowa. Those are three toss-up races that Democrats had managed to make competitive with strong candidates and strong fundraising. But they couldn’t get their Democratic candidates over the top.
Longer-shot races for Democrats, like unseating John Cornyn (R) in Texas or Sen. Lindsey O. Graham in South Carolina or even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in Kentucky also failed, despite Democrats raising hundreds of millions of dollars and breaking fundraising records to try to oust them.
“To all the pollsters out there: You have no idea what you’re doing,” Graham said after winning his race by double digits, taunting the massive amounts his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, raised to try to beat him. "And to all the liberals in California and New York, you wasted a lot of money.”
Collins’ win in Maine was particularly remarkable, because it means she got over 50 percent of the vote despite not hitting that in a single major public poll leading up to the election. And hitting 50 percent means she avoids multiple rounds of re-tabulations of the vote under Maine’s unique ranked-choice voting system, which awards second-choice votes to the top vote-getters if no candidate gets over 50 percent, and which estimates figured could have helped Gideon.
There’s more bad news for Democrats in two major outstanding races in North Carolina and Georgia.
In North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis (R) is leading his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by less than two points. Senate Democrats say they always knew North Carolina was going to be a nail-biter. But they had also hoped that all their work expanding the map into Republican territory meant the battle for the majority wouldn’t come down to just this one race in a swing state. It may well have.
There are two Senate races in Georgia, and Democrats had hoped to, at the very least, push both to a runoff in January. They may only get one.
Sen. David Perdue (R) is leading by nearly four points over Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. That’s a larger lead than President Trump now has in the state, 2.2 points. If Perdue can get to 50 percent of the vote, he can avoid a runoff triggered under Georgia election law. That would eliminate Democrats’ chances to try once again to oust him in a January election. (The outstanding votes to be counted in Georgia lean Democratic, but Perdue is positioned to absorb more of those and still hang on.)
The other Georgia Senate race is a special election that will go to a January runoff. Democrats got their candidate through, pastor Raphael Warnock. He faces the incumbent senator, Kelly Loeffler (R), who was appointed to the open seat. Democratic candidates have traditionally not performed well in Senate runoffs in Georgia, when it’s more difficult to get out the vote without a presidential race at the top of the ticket.
Democrats are trying to hang on in Michigan, where Sen. Gary Peters’s (D) reelection against Republican challenger John James remains too close to call. James led with the in-person vote, but as the state counts the more Democratic-mailed vote, his lead is shrinking and vanishing. That prompted a tweet from Trump falsely suggesting fraud in the state.
So Democrats woke up the day after Election Day with the possibility of netting one or two seats of the three or four they needed to win the majority, and most other paths closed to them. It’s possible that Democrats’ best chance to win back the majority since they lost it in 2014 fails.
This has been updated with the latest news.