By David Morgan
Republican Senator Cory Gardner was defeated on Tuesday in Colorado by former Governor John Hickenlooper, giving the Democrats their first victory of an election battle in which they are attempting to win control of the U.S. Senate.
Final results from at least five of the contests may not be available for days, and in some cases, months, however.
Voters are also deciding whether to end the political careers of Trump ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and moderate Susan Collins of Maine, among other embattled Republican senators.
In total, 12 Republican-held seats and two Democratic-held seats have been in play, based on a Reuters analysis of three nonpartisan U.S. elections forecasters – the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections.
Gardner, a first-term Republican long seen as his party’s most vulnerable Senate incumbent, lost to Hickenlooper in a formerly Republican state where demographic changes have increasingly favored Democrats in recent years, according to projections by television networks and Edison Research.
To win the majority in the Senate, Democrats need to pick up only three Republican seats if Joe Biden is elected president and Senator Kamala Harris wields the tie-breaking vote as vice president. Republicans now hold a 53-47 seat majority.
Another vulnerable Republican, Senator John Cornyn, was declared the winner against Democratic challenger M.J. Hegar in Texas, a state that appeared to be drifting toward Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the final days of the campaign.
Republican Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won re-election on Tuesday. He was among a number of incumbents from both parties to be declared winners in less competitive races.
McConnell overcame a challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath, a former U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot who out-fundraised McConnell by $40 million but was unable to overcome Kentucky’s Republican sway.
All told, 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats are up for election.
“There are dogfights all over the country,” McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said at a campaign stop earlier in the week. He described the possibility of Republicans holding onto the Senate majority as a “50-50 proposition.”
Those odds appear optimistic, based on the three forecasters.
They forecast that Democrats could emerge with as many as 55 Senate seats, giving them a majority for the first time in a decade in both the Senate and the 435-seat House of Representatives, where they are expected to maintain control.
Democrats are hoping to usher in a new political era in Washington if Biden also wins.
Though likely to fall short of a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority, Democratic Senate control would greatly aid a Biden legislative agenda or help stymie a second Trump term.
Gardner was among more than half a dozen first-term party incumbents in states also including Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and North Carolina. Democrats Doug Jones and Gary Peters are on the defensive in Alabama and Michigan, respectively.
DELAYS EXPECTED IN RESULTS
Results from some races are not likely to be known until after Election Day, due to this year’s unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots and possible runoff elections in four races.
Delayed results could occur in Arizona and Maine, where Democrats are strongly favored to flip Republican seats.
Final results from a four-way Maine contest between Collins, Democrat Sara Gideon and two independent candidates could be delayed for 10 days to two weeks if no candidate wins an outright majority and the race is forced into an automatic runoff under the state’s ranked-choice voting system, according to a state election official.
Maine voters can rank candidates in order of preference. With no clear winner on Election Night, the contest would enter a series of elimination rounds in which lower-ranked candidates drop out until a victor emerges.
Two elections for a pair of Senate seats in Georgia could face a similar fate, except that runoff elections would be delayed until Jan 5.
In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly could be poised to unseat Republican Senator Martha McSally. But county authorities have up to 20 days to review election results. McSally’s failed 2018 election contest against Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema took six days to produce a winner.
In Michigan, where Peters could be vulnerable to an upset by Republican John James, state election officials warn final results may not be available until Friday.
The outcome of tight races in Montana and South Carolina may not be known until Wednesday, according to state election and Democratic Party officials.
In Montana’s U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Steve Daines is running neck and neck with Governor Steve Bullock. In South Carolina, Graham, a three-term Republican, faces an unprecedented challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison.
If Democrats do emerge from the election with Senate control, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to let nothing stand in their way. “Nothing is off the table,” he said.