Balance of Power: A Partisan Convergence in the Senate

Updated as of Nov. 12, 2020

What is the new balance of power in the Senate?

The balance of power in the Senate will remain uncertain into the new year, as two Georgia races are headed for Jan. 5 runoffs. One pits Republican Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff, and the other is a special runoff between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock. Loeffler was appointed to the seat in January to succeed Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Leading up to the runoff elections, Republicans have an advantage in the fight for Senate majority, with 50 seats compared to Democrats’ 48. If Democrats win both Georgia runoffs, the Senate will be evenly split between the parties, making Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris the tie breaker.

[The election is only the beginning. For tips on how to navigate the transition period, see our Post-Election Guide to Navigating Washington.]

What was the outlook prior to the election?

The top Democratic targets were Maine and Colorado, the only two states Trump lost in 2016 where Republicans are defending Senate seats in 2020.

Sen. Susan Collins, a politically dominant figure in Maine for a generation, sought a fifth term, while Sen. Cory Gardner ran for his second. Collins held onto her seat, beating Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon. In Colorado, however, former Gov. John Hickenlooper won Gardner’s seat.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, also endorsed candidates against Republican incumbents in states that backed Trump by modest margins in 2016. Democrats were successful in Arizona, where gun control activist and former astronaut Mark Kelly came out on top over Sen. Martha McSally. Republican incumbents Joni Ernst, in Iowa, and John Cornyn, in Texas, held onto their seats. In North Carolina, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis eked out a win over Democrat Cal Cunningham, who was recently the subject of a scandal involving sexually suggestive text messages.

[For more race for 2020 resources, explore our election page here.]

Most of the rest of the Republican seats at stake in 2020 were out of reach for the Democrats. In 15 of the 23 contests where Republicans had Senate seats on the ballot, Trump carried those states in 2016 by at least 14 percentage points.

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