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Analysis: GOP Now Has Inside Track to Hold Senate Majority

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Progressives across the country have come to deeply loathe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- so as they did six years ago, they greeted the launch of his young, female, Democratic challenger's campaign with great fanfare. In 2014, the opposition nominated the daughter of a prominent political figure and statewide officeholder in Kentucky to face McConnell, and her race quickly became a cause celebre among coastal liberals. At least $80 million poured into the contest overall, which attracted visits from former President Bill Clinton and various liberal celebrities. When the polls closed on election night that year -- a red wave cycle -- the race was instantaneously called for McConnell, who ended up crushing Alison Lundergan Grimes by nearly 16 points, nearly doubling the final RCP polling average.

Six years later, McConnell is even more hated by the Democratic base, which inaccurately and blindly blames him for everything that's wrong with the Senate. Ignoring (or ignorant of) the relevant record, they blame him for the judicial wars, as if history began in 2016. When military veteran Amy McGrath, who lost a tight Congressional election in 2018, announced her intention to challenge McConnell, the hype machine launched into overdrive. But Team Mitch was ready. Here's how they welcomed McGrath to the race:

It turned out that McGrath was a dreadful candidate. She was so weak that she needed to be dragged across the finish line just to survive her primary, despite being the Democratic Party's anointed choice. Obsessed with defeating McConnell, progressives from all over the country kept dumping cash into the race. McGrath raised nearly $90 million -- an unfathomable figure -- and outspent McConnell's campaign by tens of millions. And that number didn't include any outside spending. Mind-blowing. But McConnell is a Bluegrass State fixture for a reason, and laid out his closing argument at a Monday rally (click through for video):

That clip comes courtesy of the Courier-Journal, whose liberal editorial board curiously declined to endorse McGrath, despite its long history of backing Democrats. McConnell joked that McGrath was evidently "an acquired taste," even for the Courier-Journal. I've been writing for months about the importance of re-electing a Republican Senate. At the very top of the list of GOP incumbents deserving re-election, in my book, was "Cocaine" Mitch McConnell, who finally forced Democrats to live by their own hardball rules, and engineered a truly historic and ruthlessly effective project of filling judicial vacancies. And thus, when the polls closed and the votes poured in, Kentuckians again rejected a liberal Democrat and overwhelmingly handed McConnell another six-year term. If only leftists had sent McGrath an additional $88 million, perhaps things could have been different. Better still, as the votes have been counted, it's looking increasingly likely that McConnell will remain Majority Leader when the new Senate gavels in next year. Let's start with these races, which very much did not break blue, despite liberals' high hopes and gobsmacking levels of spending (margins as of late last night):

As for the other targeted races, Cory Gardner and Martha McSally lost in Colorado and Arizona, respectively. These were not unexpected outcomes, but still disappointing to their supporters. The GOP gain in Alabama was also widely anticipated. Those results put the Democrats at +1 overall, needing at least three net gains. In Maine, Susan Collins is looking like she might just be a survivor, even with the thorny ranked-vote system in her state. That's not official yet, but Republicans are increasingly bullish there. Joni Ernst won convincingly in Iowa, Steve Daines of Montana secured another term, and Alaska's Dan Sullivan did the same. Thom Tillis looks like he's likely pulled off a victory, too, arguably the most clutch one of the bunch, with the possible exception of Collins (though, again, neither is yet confirmed). Republicans needed to nearly run the table to prevent Chuck Schumer from becoming majority leader, and they appear poised to pull that off. A remarkable achievement, if realized.

One remaining X-factor is Georgia. At least one of those two races is headed for a runoff (Loeffler special), and the other contest (Perdue) may do the same. Those would be decided in early January, with Senate control very possibly on the line. Imagine the spending and rhetoric around those battles. But I think most analysts would agree that the Georgia runoff dynamics favor Republicans. All of which is to say, the GOP appears well-positioned to hold the Senate, which would prevent wild Democratic overreach and put an end to talk of court-packing (the threat of which was anathema to swing voters) for the time being, in the event of a Biden win. Let's wait and see, but right-leaning voters can feel a sense of pride over going a long way toward holding the line on this absolutely critical front. I'll leave you with a snapshot out of the House. Some of this will surely shift around, but I can tell you that nobody, including many House Republican operatives, saw this coming:

Pelosi will remain Speaker, but probably not by the margin she'd hoped or expected. And the news is shaping up to be even worse for her upper chamber counterpart, Chuck Schumer. I'll leave you with this:

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