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WASHINGTON - Control of the U.S. Senate remained uncertain early Wednesday as a handful of races in states including North Carolina, Maine and Georgia remained too close to call.
In Colorado, Democrats made a key pickup when Republican incumbent Cory Gardner lost to Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper, the former governor. Gardner is the last remaining Republican statewide official in a state that was once considered an election battleground.
According to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, just seven of the 35 Senate seats up for election Tuesday were rated true toss-ups. Senate Republicans went into Tuesday holding a 53-47 majority, but faced a tough election cycle since they are defending twice as many seats as Democrats this year.
Republicans did pick up a seat in Alabama, with Trump-endorsed former football coach Tommy Tuberville beating incumbent Democratic Senator Doug Jones. The Alabama Senate seat was the only toss-up seat this year held by Democrats.
With the win in Colorado and the loss in Alabama, Democrats now need net wins of three seats if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the presidency and four seats if U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected.
With the Democrats building on their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, control of the Senate will be essential to the success of the agenda of the next occupant of the White House. The majority party in the Senate also will consider future appointments to the Supreme Court and federal judgeships.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won an expected re-election, despite a well-funded challenge by Democrat Amy McGrath.
In a victory speech Tuesday night, McConnell said the nation faced significant challenges moving forward after the election.
"We don't yet know which Presidential candidate will begin a new term in January, we don't know which party will control the Senate. But some things are certain already. We know grave challenges will remain before us, challenges that could not care less about our political polarization. We know our next president will need to unite the country as we all continue to bring different ideas and commitments to the table," McConnell said.
But if Democrats win control of the Senate, McConnell will no longer serve in the top leadership position. Instead, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, would assume the reins of the Senate.
The country would then face the prospect of either a divided government if Trump wins a second term, with the Republicans in control of the White House and the Democrats in control of Congress - or a unified government with the Democrats in control of both the Congress and White House if Biden prevails.
Trump ally Republican Senator Lindsey Graham defeated Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in South Carolina. Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic State Party Chairman, had raised Democrats' hopes by breaking the record for the largest single-quarter fundraising ever in a Senate race - a record $57 million. As Senate Judiciary Chairman, Graham recently played a key role in confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
Control of the Senate could hinge on the outcome of votes in Georgia where both of the state's Senate seats are up for election.
Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff is taking on Republican incumbent David Perdue. The other seat was a three-way race in a special election. Incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Democrat new to politics, secured enough votes to advance past Republican Rep. Doug Collins.
The run-off between Loeffler and Warnock on January 5, 2021 means the final makeup of the U.S. Senate may not be decided until next year.
Republicans are also closely watching the Senate race in Iowa, where Republican incumbent Senator Joni Ernst was trailing several points behind Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in most polls in the days leading up to the election. Both Ernst and Greenfield highlighted their ties to farming in the agricultural-based state.
But Ernst strongly supported Trump's trade wars with China that caused economic uncertainty for many farmers and recently she stumbled during a debate when asked to name the current price of corn.
Republicans were also looking to Maine where Incumbent Senator Susan Collins has been trailing former state representative Sara Gideon by several points through most of the fall. And in the key swing state North Carolina, Republican Senator Thom Tillis was fighting off a challenge from former state senator Cal Cunningham.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats were expected to build on their majority with a net gain of at least five seats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is likely to be re-elected to her position when the new Congress convenes next January. She told reporters in a call earlier Tuesday, "This election is about nothing less than taking back the soul of America, whether our nation will follow the voices of fear or whether we will choose hope."