Annette Elizabeth Allen for NPR
Republicans will hold on to control of the Senate, according to Associated Press projections. The GOP defied the odds in a year in which they were almost entirely on defense and rode a wave that carried Donald J. Trump to the White House.
Even with their best opportunities to gain seats in years, Democrats so far have only been able to pick up deep blue Illinois. And they narrowly hung on in Nevada, which was Republicans’ only offensive opportunity.
Going into Election Day, Democrats thought they had expanded an already favorable map for them, putting Republicans on notice in Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. Among competitive races, only the New Hampshire Senate race remains too close to call. The Louisiana Senate race will go to a December runoff, but Republicans are expected to easily hold that seat.
The state that best tells the story of the night is Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won re-election in a state most in the GOP wrote off months ago. He defeated Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold again in a rematch of their 2010 contest. Feingold had been trying to become the first former senator to win a Senate rematch since 1934. Johnson ran a strong race and was able to take advantage of tightening polls in the presidential contest. Both parties went back into the race with millions of dollars in ads in the closing days, but even Republicans thought it was a lost cause and Democrats just viewed it as an insurance policy of sorts. But as we’re seeing across the country now, those polls were very, very wrong.
In Indiana, former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh lost his comeback bid by a stunning 10 points to give GOP Rep. Todd Young the win, keeping the seat of retiring Sen. Dan Coats in Republican hands.
When Bayh entered the race this summer — after Democrats persuaded their initial nominee, former Rep. Baron Hill, to drop out — he quickly became the heavy favorite, with his universal name ID, family goodwill in the state and a $10 million war chest. Democrats were ecstatic they were able to give Republicans a headache they didn’t need in a year where they were already almost entirely playing defense.
But Bayh didn’t live up to the hype. Republicans were able to attack him over his ties to lobbyists and raise questions about his residency and purchase of a multimillion-dollar home in Georgetown — enough to hand Bayh, a former senator and governor and son of former Sen. Birch Bayh — his first loss ever in the state. He stumbled over his Indiana address during an interview, and it was later reported that he’d charged taxpayers for hotel stays in the state before he retired in 2010. Trump did well in the state, and that certainly helped Young, but it was a stunning collapse for Bayh in what looked like an almost sure thing when he got into the race.
Sen. Richard Burr also kept North Carolina in GOP hands, winning re-election over Democratic former state Rep. Deborah Ross. Burr ran a lackluster race, frustrating many national Republicans, but Ross was damaged by Republican hits over her tenure as the head of the state ACLU. But overall, the uptick for Trump across the country and his win in North Carolina helped Burr, who narrowly ran ahead of the GOP presidential nominee.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey also hung on to win re-election, beating Democrat Katie McGinty in a race called just before 1:30 a.m. ET by the AP that clinched Republicans’ hold on the Senate.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt also hung on to win re-election over Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander. National Republicans were frustrated for months as they didn’t think Blunt was taking his challenge from Kander, a young Iraq veteran, seriously. But the GOP wave across the country helped carry Blunt as well, though he was trailing Trump by about eight points in the state.
The two lone bright spots for Democrats were in Illinois and Nevada, but those wins netted them only one seat.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth picked up Illinois for Democrats, defeating GOP Sen. Mark Kirk. He already had the dubious distinction of being the Republican who represented the bluest state in the country, and he won in 2010, which was a good year for the GOP. Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran and former U.S. Army pilot who lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm when her helicopter crashed.
Duckworth ran a good race, but Kirk had a lot of missteps and gaffes — most notably during a debate when he made a flippant remark about Duckworth’s military service and heritage. Her mother is from Thailand and her father is American, and when she talked about her family fighting in the American Revolution, Kirk’s retort was, “I’d forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
Democrats also kept the seat of retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Buoyed by Hispanic turnout, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto defeated GOP Rep. Joe Heck to win the open seat. She will become the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.
Republicans will also easily keep their House majority, extending their six-year lock on the chamber, the AP projects.
Republicans weren’t expected to lose control of the House, even if Democrats ended up having a better night across the board. The 30 seats Democrats needed were an uphill climb, but as recently as a few weeks ago, Democratic strategists thought 20 seats might be possible. As polls tightened nationally, though, 10 to 15 seats seemed the most likely outcome.
Now, Democrats will do well to break into the high single-digits in terms of pickups. So far, they have just five net pickups — two of them Florida seats that Democrats were expecting to win because of court-ordered redistricting.
Just four Republican incumbents have lost, and two of those had problems independent of the growing GOP wave. Twelve-term Florida Rep. John Mica lost to Democrat Stephanie Murphy. The Republican incumbent didn’t take this very real challenge seriously, much to the frustration of national Republicans. Court-ordered redistricting made his district more Democratic and included more than 40 percent of new territory, along with a growing Puerto Rican population. He acknowledged just two weeks ago that he didn’t even have a campaign manager or a press secretary.
In New Jersey, GOP Rep. Scott Garrett also lost his re-election bid. Garrett made waves when he reportedly refused to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee last cycle because it was supporting LGBT candidates, and that hurt him in suburban New Jersey. His Democratic challenger, Josh Gottheimer, a former Microsoft executive and Bill Clinton speechwriter, outraised Garrett while many of the congressman’s Wall Street donors abandoned him over his views on gay marriage.
GOP Rep. Bob Dold in Illinois lost a rematch with former Rep. Brad Schneider in a district that takes in the northern Chicago suburbs. Dold won the race in 2010, lost it to Schneider in 2012, but now has lost it again. Clinton won Illinois big, and it’s also where Democrats have their only Senate pickup, as well.
In Nevada, freshman GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy also lost re-election to Democrat Ruben Kihuen, a former state Senate whip. The Northern Las Vegas district is almost 30 percent Latino, and it’s one that Obama carried by 10 points four years ago.
Republicans also held onto House seats they were expected to lose. For example, in Iowa, freshman Rep. Rod Blum, a very conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus, was able to easily win re-election in a district President Obama carried by 14 points in 2012.
To comment, go to this story on NPR’s Facebook page.
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.