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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer answers questions from reporters as he gets on an elevator, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020.

Samuel Corum/The New York Times News Service

Democrats and Republicans traded Senate seats Tuesday night, although whether either could secure a majority in the upper house remains unclear.

Though favored by forecasters to emerge with a Senate majority, Democrats had defeated only Republican Senator Cory Gardner in Colorado as election day ended on Tuesday, a victory that was quickly offset by the loss of Democratic Senator Doug Jones in Alabama.

Four Republican incumbents - Joni Ernst of Iowa, Steve Daines of Montana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas - fended off Democratic challenges, according to networks and Edison Research.

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Republicans also held onto an open seat in Kansas, where Republican Roger Marshall was declared the winner over Democrat Barbara Bollier.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate long viewed as vulnerable to upset, led Democrat Sara Gideon by several percentage points in a race that Gideon predicted would not be called soon.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina held a narrow lead over his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham.

Democrat Mark Kelly won the Arizona Senate seat once held by John McCain, riding Arizona’s changing electorate to flip a Republican Senate seat in a state long dominated by the GOP.


Should Joe Biden win the presidential election, the Democrats require a net pickup of at least three seats. If Donald Trump prevails, the Democrats need a net gain of four, because the vice-president is also president of the Senate, and casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie.

On Tuesday night, the Democrats had one solid gain. In Colorado, John Hickenlooper, the former governor and mayor of Denver, defeated Gardner. Colorado has been trending more and more Democratic in each election, and Mr. Hickenlooper’s victory offered further confirmation.

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In Montana, Democratic former governor Steve Bullock hoped to defeat Mr. Daines in a contest that was, per capita, the most expensive in the union. The outcome of the tight race may not be known until later Wednesday, according to state election and Democratic Party officials.

Republicans, however, had reason to feel good about Georgia. The state is choosing both its senators in this election. Democrat Jon Ossoff, a journalist and entrepreneur, sought to unseat Republican Senator David Perdue, while Democrat Raphael Warnock, a minister, was among a wild-and-wooly mix of candidates for the seat that Kelly Loeffler was appointed to last year and that she seeks to win in her own right. With more than three quarters of the vote counted, Mr. Perdue enjoyed a comfortable lead, while Rev. Warnock was narrowly ahead.

Under Georgia’s rules, if no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the two top contenders face each other in a January runoff. That will certainly be the case for Ms. Loeffler and Rev. Warnock.

Republicans were also celebrating in South Carolina. Mr. Trump has few more vocal champions than Lindsey Graham, which is why money from inside and outside the state flooded into the campaign of his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison. But Senator Graham cruised to a comfortable victory. In the 2020 elections, at least at the Senate level, a fundraising advantage did not necessarily translate into victory at the polls.

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In North Carolina, even though Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham was caught up in an extramarital scandal, he led Republican Senator Thom Tillis in the polls. But as Tuesday turned to Wednesday, Mr. Tillis clung to a small lead, with more than 90 per cent of votes counted.

In Maine, Senator Collins, a beleaguered moderate Republican, sought a fifth term. Her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh angered progressives, and she faced a stiff challenge from Sara Gideon, Speaker of the state House. Early on Wednesday, Ms. Collins had a 15-point lead with one third of vote in.

Final results from a four-way Maine contest among Senator Collins, Ms. 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.

The fate of the Senate could be crucial to U.S. politics over the next four years. With the House of Representatives firmly in Democratic hands, control of the Senate would provide the Democrats with a united Congress, regardless of who became president.

But a divided Congress in a deeply polarized country would struggle to reach the kinds of compromises needed for progress in health care, immigration reform and other key social issues.

Control of the Senate also determines who is appointed to the Supreme Court. One of Mr. Trump’s signal achievements was placing three conservative judges on the court, tilting the judicial balance.

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In any case, the Senate leadership appeared set to remain unchanged. Senator McConnell won re-election in Kentucky, while Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York was not facing re-election.

Which of them would become majority leader in the Senate remained the unanswered question.

Editor’s note: Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, not Kansas as originally published.

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