Democrat dreams of Senate control thwarted by Republican resurgence

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Washington: Democrats faced increasingly long odds as the battle for Senate control hangs in balance and Republicans brushed back multiple challengers to protect their majority. Still, it was too soon for the GOP to declare victory.

In Michigan, Democrats were spared a loss late on Thursday (AEDT) when Senator Gary Peters beat back a tough challenge from Republican John James. But Republicans held onto Maine, with Susan Collins securing a fifth term, and other key seats across the map.

Republican Senator Susan Collins claims victory the day after polls closed.Credit:AP

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Donald Trump's campaign helped his GOP allies, but that state election officials were still counting ballots. Key Senate races in North Carolina, Alaska and Georgia remained undecided.

"We're waiting – whether I'm going to be the majority leader or not," McConnell said at a news conference in his home state of Kentucky.

In a delicate pushback against Trump's own premature claims of victory over Democrat contender Joe Biden in the presidential race, the GOP leader said: "Claiming you've won the election is different from finishing the counting."

McConnell said he felt "pretty good" about the remaining contests. He secured a seventh term in a costly campaign, fending off Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell awaits the final results. Credit:AP

Election night delivered a jarring outcome for Democrats who had devised an expanded political map, eager to counter Trump and his party's grip on the Senate.

While Democrats picked up must-win seats in Colorado and Arizona, they suffered a setback in Alabama and Republicans held their own in one race after another — in South Carolina, Iowa, Texas, Kansas, Montana and Maine, dramatically limiting Democrats' hopes of making inroads.

The races attracted an unprecedented outpouring of small donations for Democrats from Americans apparently voting with their wallets to propel long-shot campaigns.

The choices of voters will force a rethink of the Democrats' strategy, messaging and approach in the Trump era.

"You wasted a lot of money," said White House ally Senator Lindsey Graham in Columbia, South Carolina, after defeating Jamie Harrison, despite the Democrat's stunning $US100 million ($140 million) haul for his upstart campaign. "This is the worst return on investment in the history of American politics."

Trump loomed large over the Senate races as did Biden.

Securing the Senate majority will be vital for the winner of the presidency. Senators confirm administration nominees, including the Cabinet and can propel or stall the White House agenda. With Republicans now controlling the chamber, 53-47, three or four seats will determine party control, depending on who wins the presidency because the vice-president can break a tie in the Senate.

In Maine, Susan Collins won the hardest-fought race of her career, securing a fifth term by defeating Democrat Sara Gideon. She declared victory on Thursday (AEDT) and said the outcome was "affirmation of the work that I’m doing in Washington". Democrats had tried to tie the moderate Republican to Trump and criticised her for her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The final breakdown now awaits the outcome of races in Alaska, Georgia and North Carolina.

Stuck in Washington as McConnell rushed the Senate to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett a week before Election Day, senators quickly fanned out — some alongside the President — for last-ditch tours to shore up votes.

The political landscape is quickly changing from six years ago when most of these senators last faced voters.

The Senate will welcome some newcomers as others retire. In New Mexico, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, a member of House leadership, was elected to the seat held by Democrat Tom Udall. Tennessee Republican Bill Hagerty won the seat held by Republican Lamar Alexander. Republican Cynthia Lummis, the former congresswoman from Wyoming, won the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Mike Enzi.


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Understand the election result and its aftermath with expert analysis from US correspondent Matthew Knott. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald‘s newsletter here, The Age‘s here, Brisbane Times‘ here and WAtoday‘s here. 

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