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Republicans retain the House amid tight Senate races in U.S. election

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander speaks to supporters on Nov. 7, 2016, in St. Louis.

Jeff Roberson/AP

The Republicans will retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives – and while the race for the Senate remained too close to call Tuesday night, the Republicans appeared to have stalled Democratic gains in several of the tightest contests.

"By some accounts, this could be a really good night for America. This could be a good night for us," Wisconsin Republican stalwart Paul Ryan said in a speech after his re-election to the House of Representatives.

"Fingers crossed."

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While Republicans such as Mr. Ryan have had a fractious relationship with Donald Trump, momentum from his presidential campaign and his populist, anti-Washington appeal likely aided at least some Congressional races on Tuesday.

For his part, Mr. Ryan he has said he wants to stay on as House Speaker. For this reason alone, he may eventually have to find kind of peace with Mr. Trump.

When it came to contentious Senate races, the Democrats took a seat from Republican-held Illinois, where votes for Democrat challenger Tammy Duckworth – a double-amputee Iraq war veteran – easily surpassed those for GOP Senator Mark Kirk.

But other states where Democrats had hoped to make Senate inroads were held for Republicans. For instance, Democrat Deborah Ross was not able to leverage her strong, well-funded campaign into a win against incumbent Republican Richard Burr, a Trump ally, in North Carolina. Ron Johnson was re-elected to the Senate in Wisconsin, where former senator Russ Feingold once led the polls by double-digits.

But the tightness in other Senate races was on full display in New Hampshire, where Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte was locked in a ferocious battle with Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan late into Tuesday evening. In a state with just 1.3 million people, the campaign costs are estimated at $100-million. Ms. Ayotte spent the last day of her campaign making 24 stops in 24 hours, an exhausting final effort to capture votes at truck stops and diners.

New Hampshire is far from being an outlier in the Senate races during this year's U.S. election – the non-stop turmoil of the presidential campaign and internal state dynamics created a number of tight contests.

Congressional races have been overshadowed by the presidential campaign – the posturing and archived sexism of Mr. Trump against the steady defensiveness of a Democratic campaign dogged by questions about Hillary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail server when she was secretary of state.

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The heated presidential contest did influence "down ticket" races, helping boost the nail-biting quotient in a unusually high number of competitive states. GOP incumbents around the country faced energized Democratic challengers trying to oust them in costly and caustic battles.

The University of Virginia's Center for Politics' Crystal Ball projected on Monday that the Senate elections would end with the Democrats and Republicans each holding 50 seats. As voting progressed on Tuesday, the outcomes in GOP-held Missouri, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire were far from clear. The race was also razor-close in Nevada, the Democratic-held seat that was hotly contested this election, where Minority Leader Harry Reid was retiring after five terms.

The twists and turns of a number of key Senate races have been dizzying. Ohio and Arizona, forecast to be competitive early on, turned into walks for the GOP incumbents, Rob Portman and John McCain.

Missouri furnished one of the most compelling races of the season thanks to Democratic hopeful Jason Kander, who drew attention and praise from both parties in his challenge to GOP Senator Roy Blunt. Mr. Kander, a young military veteran, ran an ad in which he assembled an assault rifle blindfolded and challenged Mr. Blunt to do the same.

The Republicans held control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives heading into the vote. After Tuesday's vote for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, it was clear the Republicans will retain control of that chamber.

The Democrats hoped to regain the Senate after losing control two years ago. In Tuesday's staggered election, one-third, or 34, of the 100 Senate seats were up for grabs. Since the vice-president gets the deciding "nay" or "yea" in the event of a tie in a Senate vote, the Democrats needed to add least five new seats to the 46 they already had, inclusive of two like-minded independents.

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However, the president-elect should brace for more years of tumultuous relations with Congress.

"Regardless of who wins the presidential race, it's likely that Congress will still be problematic for that person," said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Ms. Clinton would face many of the same difficulties as her predecessor, Barack Obama, when it comes to working with Congress to get legislation passed. But she would have eight years of experience in the Senate to lean on.

Dr. Oppenheimer said predicting Mr. Trump's relationship with Congress is more difficult.

"His behaviour is somewhat more erratic," he said, adding the Republican party is not totally unified behind him.

"He hasn't talked about public policy very much – and not in great depth – although, very often with very strong feelings about things he could do that are more easily said than done."

A contingent of hard-right representatives will continue to be difficult for anyone to control – including the Republican Speaker of the House, Dr. Oppenheimer said.

In the Senate, even if the Democrats take control, Ms. Clinton's path would not be an easy one. Dr. Oppenheimer notes the ability of the minority party to block legislation is much greater in the Senate than in the House.

One of the first issues Ms. Clinton would have to grapple with is Supreme Court appointments, which the U.S. Senate must confirm.

With a report from the Associated Press

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