Election 2020

Democrats' Crumbling Hopes of a Blue Wave Make Divided Government More Likely

A GOP Senate could act as a powerful check on a Biden administration.


As the final votes continue to be tallied in elections across the country, Democrats are likely to keep their House majority, though hopes of surpassing the GOP in the Senate dimmed on election night as several key Democrat-leaning toss-up races were either called for or led by incumbent Republicans. Such results could set the scene for a divided government, with the Senate acting as a powerful check on a Joe Biden administration should he win the presidency.

In one swing race, Sen. Joni Ernst (R–Iowa) handily bested her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, earning 52 percent of the vote to Greenfield's 45 percent. Ernst had been down consistently in the polls, though she came out on top in a final survey before election night. In the presidential race, the state went for Donald Trump.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) defeated Democrat Sara Gideon in a win that was called Wednesday afternoon. And though the victor of the North Carolina Senate race is yet to be determined, Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, has a two percentage point lead over Democrat Cal Cunningham.

To some degree, Collins's win and Tillis's likely victory are an indictment of the polling strategy: Virtually every poll showed the two behind their competitors, as if their losses were a foregone conclusion.

Democrats were able, however, to flip two Senate seats: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper took a seat from Sen. Cory Gardner (R–Colo.), and Mark Kelly bested Sen. Martha McSally (R–Ariz.) for her seat in Arizona.

In Alabama, Republican Tommy Tuberville defeated Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, flipping one of the state's Senate seats back to red, as was expected.

Long shot goals for Democrats included wins in South Carolina and Kentucky, though Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell both won out over their challengers early in the evening. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, claimed victory in Montana, pushing back a bid from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. The fate of the Georgia race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff is unclear, though as of this writing Perdue holds a 4-point lead. 

If the toss-up races continue to trend in the current direction, Republicans would secure a 52–48 majority—one seat fewer than they currently have, but a majority nonetheless.

Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump has been able to claim victory. On Wednesday afternoon, Biden was up in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada with a chunk of mail-in ballots yet to be counted, which typically tilt in favor of Democrats. If Biden ekes out a win, a GOP Senate potentially provides a better outcome than what much of the chattering class predicted: that Biden would enter the Oval Office with a Democratic Senate and House in tow, allowing him unfettered ability to fulfill his full list of $11 trillion campaign promises.