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How the 10 most vulnerable senators fared on election night

Gardner, McSally, Jones ousted; Graham, Ernst, Daines win

From left, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Martha McSally and Joni Ernst all featured on our final list of most vulnerable senators. Graham and Ernst won reelection, while McSally lost in Arizona.
From left, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Martha McSally and Joni Ernst all featured on our final list of most vulnerable senators. Graham and Ernst won reelection, while McSally lost in Arizona. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Heading into Election Day, most of the senators facing perilous paths to reelection were Republicans, since they’re defending twice as many seats as Democrats this year. 

Democrats need a net gain of three or four seats to take control of the Senate, depending on who wins the White House since the vice president casts tiebreaking votes in the chamber. Campaign strategists in both parties expect the battle for the Senate to be close. 

Each party’s prospects in competitive Senate races are also expected to reflect what’s happening at the top of the ticket. President Donald Trump has seen his poll numbers fall since the coronavirus pandemic hit, so any losses for Trump in battleground or GOP-leaning states could spell trouble for Senate Republicans. 

Three races — in Maine, North Carolina and Georgia — were still being counted early Wednesday morning. Here’s how the rest of the 10 most vulnerable senators fared based on results from The Associated Press (all times Eastern):

McSally loses second straight Senate race in Arizona: Voters in Arizona once again rejected Republican Martha McSally, who also lost a close Senate race in 2018 before she was appointed to the late Sen. John S. McCain’s seat. McSally was trailing retired astronaut and Navy veteran Mark Kelly, 47 percent to 53 percent, when The Associated Press called the race at 2:51 a.m. Wednesday. Kelly, who is married to former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, proved to be a blockbuster fundraiser this cycle. As this contest was a special election for the final two years of McCain’s term, Kelly can be seated as early as the end of this month. And he’ll have to make a quick turnaround to run for a full term in 2022. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also carried the state, the first for a Democrat since 1996. Democrats in Arizona have made strong efforts in recent years to build a coalition of minority voters and white voters in affluent Maricopa County, home to Phoenix.

Daines wins in Montana: Republican Sen. Steve Daines has won a second term, fending off a challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who jumped into the Senate race after an unsuccessful run for president. Daines was leading Bullock 53 percent to 47 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 1:49 a.m. Wednesday. Daines touted his leadership on a massive public lands bill passed earlier this year, defining himself as “conservative conservationist.” Daines won despite his opponent’s clear fundraising advantage. Bullock hauled in $42 million as of Oct. 14, compared with Daines’ $27 million.

Ernst wins in Iowa: GOP Sen. Joni Ernst won her bid for a second term, defeating real estate executive Theresa Greenfield. The AP called the race at 12:37 a.m. Wednesday when Ernst had 52 percent of the vote to Greenfield’s 45 percent. Outside groups in both parties poured money into the state, and the Gazette reported that roughly $234 million was spent on the Iowa Senate race, the most expensive in the state’s history. Trump also carried the state.

Loeffler bound for runoff in Georgia: Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is headed for a Jan. 5 runoff election against Democrat Raphael Warnock after no one in the crowded all-party special Senate election took more than 50 percent. Loeffler had 28 percent of the vote to Warnock’s 30 percent when the AP called the race at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday. GOP Rep. Doug Collins was at 22 percent and conceded the race, pledging his support to Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat at the end of last year. Loeffler veered sharply to the right during the campaign to counter Collins. She claimed in ads to be “more conservative than Attila the Hun” and picked fights with the players on the WNBA team she co-owns over their support for Black Lives Matter. She may have to pivot in the coming weeks to appeal to more moderate voters as she goes head-to-head with Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Jones goes down in Alabama: Democrat Doug Jones faced steep odds in his campaign for a full Senate term, thanks to the partisan lean of the state, and, as expected, he lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville. The former Auburn University football coach was leading 62 percent to 38 percent when the AP called the race at 10:10 p.m. Tuesday. Jones had a financial advantage in the race, spending nearly four times as much as Tuberville. But Alabama is still deeply red, which helped propel Tuberville to victory. Trump, who also carried the state Tuesday, endorsed the former coach in the hotly contested GOP primary, in which Tuberville defeated Trump’s former attorney general and longtime Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Graham wins in South Carolina: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham successfully fended off Jaime Harrison, the first Black chairman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party, as Trump also carried the Palmetto State. When the AP called the race at 9:58 p.m. Tuesday, Graham had 55 percent of the vote to Harrison’s 44 percent. Graham was in the national spotlight during the final weeks of the campaign in his role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, leading the Senate Republicans’ rush to confirm Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. In addition to ample face time during Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Graham also went on Fox News to plead for financial support in the final days of the race as Harrison shattered fundraising records. Despite sharply criticizing Trump in 2016, Graham has been a strong ally of the president in the Senate.

Gardner loses in changing Colorado: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is about to find out whether he will actually hate being in the Senate. The Democrat was leading GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, 56 percent to 42 percent, when the AP called the race at 9:44 p.m. Tuesday. As expected, former Vice President Joe Biden also carried Colorado, in another sign that the Centennial State is moving to the left. Republicans were pessimistic that Gardner could pull off a win here, given that voters not affiliated with any party in Colorado had soured on Trump, who also lost the state four years ago. And Democrats secured a top recruit in Hickenlooper, despite comments he made while running for president that, as an executive, he wouldn’t be a good fit for the Senate.

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