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By Allan Smith
Republicans retained control of the Senate on Tuesday after GOP challengers defeated a pair of incumbent Democrats, and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz successfully defended his seat against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, according to NBC News projections.
The GOP entered Election Day with a 51-49 advantage in the Senate.
Democrats suffered blows early in the night that made the possibility of regaining the Senate majority virtually impossible. In Indiana and North Dakota, NBC News projected that Republican challengers Mike Braun and Kevin Cramer will defeat Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp.
The Indiana race had been considered a toss-up because Donnelly was seeking re-election in a state President Donald Trump had won in a landslide in 2016. Trump endorsed Braun and campaigned for him, most recently on Monday. Donnelly’s seat was considered a must-hold in order for Democrats to possibly find themselves in the majority next year.
In North Dakota, polling showed Cramer building a significant lead on Heitkamp ahead of Election Day.
Moments after North Dakota was called for Cramer, NBC News projected that Cruz will defeat O’Rourke. O’Rourke was the Democratic darling of the election cycle, bringing in massive amounts of donations and running close with Cruz in traditionally conservative Texas — but his efforts were not quite enough to overcome the incumbent Republican.
With Cruz projected to defeat O’Rourke following the two incumbent losses, Democrats lost any chance they had to regain the majority.
NBC News exit polling showed that the Texas Senate vote broke strongly along racial lines. Cruz won support from 71 percent of white men and 59 percent of white women polled. O’Rourke, on the other hand, won 63 percent of the Latino vote and 89 percent of the black vote.
Among voters who ranked immigration as their top concern, more than three-quarters voted for Cruz, the survey found.
Prior to projected victories for Cramer and Cruz, NBC News projected that Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn will defeat former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in the Tennessee Senate race. The contest at one point looked to be neck-and-neck, but Blackburn began to build out a polling lead in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
The news quickly got worse for Democrats following Cruz’s projected win. Shortly before midnight on the East Coast, NBC News projected that Republican challenger Josh Hawley will defeat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
In Florida, the news didn’t get any better. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who was defending his seat against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, trailed the governor by less than 1 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The race was too close for NBC News to call, but as of the early morning hours it was not tight enough to trigger an automatic recount.
As was the story for much of the 2018 cycle, the Senate map presented Democrats with narrow opportunities to regain the majority. Ten Democrats, including Donnelly and Heitkamp, were up for re-election in states Trump won, whereas just one Republican was up for re-election in a state that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won.
Earlier in the evening, NBC News projected that Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were re-elected. Based on polling of the races, none of those senators’ re-election efforts were ever in much doubt.
Democratic challengers are locked in competitive races out West in Arizona and Nevada, two possible pick-up opportunities for the party.