by Sasha Ryu
This election cycle, many progressive candidates in battleground states out-fundraised their conservative counterparts by tens of millions of dollars. Lawyers, educators, and women played a significant role in this increase in funding for Democratic candidates. However, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the vast majority of all donations to both sides of the aisle came from so-called “outside spenders.” Despite the unprecedented amount of money spent in attempts to turn traditionally Republican states blue, it seems these donations were not enough to win back a Democratic majority in the Senate.
In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis ran against Democrat Cal Cunningham. Although, in 2018, he took strong several stances against many of President Trump’s policies, after receiving backlash from his conservative base, Tillis recanted his criticisms and began to vote in alignment with the Trump administration’s decisions. Most recently, Tillis became one of the first senators speak in favor of replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court.
In October, Tillis’s fairly steady campaign for reelection encountered an unexpected hurdle when the senator contracted the coronavirus after appearing at a political event without a mask. Many expected Tillis’s diagnosis to give his opponent Cal Cunningham, a three-tour army veteran and former military prosecutor, an even better chance at winning over undecided voters. Cunningham, who ran an uncontroversial campaign focused mainly on bolstering North Carolinian health care, had been rising in the polls for months. However, weeks before election day, Cunningham found himself embroiled in a scandal of his own when a series of text messages revealed that he had taken part in an extramarital affair. Although the race was close, Tillis became one of the last senators in the country to announce his victory.
In South Carolina, Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham’s Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison became the first crowd-funded Senate candidate in history to raise over 100 million dollars. Harrison, the first Black chairman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party, ran a campaign promising to expand Medicaid and COVID-19 relief. As recent as the beginning of the year, many expected Graham, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, to have an easy re-election. However, as Harrison continued to break funding records, the race became widely considered to be a “toss up.” In the end, Graham, earned himself a fourth term, winning by a 10.3 percent margin, but it was easily the closest reelection of his 25-year congressional career.
In Maine, Republican incumbent Susan Collins ran against Democrat Sarah Gideon. Gideon, Maine’s speaker of the state house, ran a campaign criticizing Collins for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused the Judge of sexual assault. Although it was one of the closest races in her career, Collins ultimately won with a 7.7 percent lead, making her the sole Republican senator in New England.
Although several incumbent candidates were able to pull out victories against candidates with higher funding, this election cycle still produced a considerable number of freshmen senators. In Arizona, Republican incumbent Martha McSally lost to Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly. In Colorado, Republican incumbent Cory Gardner lost to Democrat John Hickenlooper. In Alabama, Democratic incumbent Doug Jones lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville.
There are currently 48 Democrats in the Senate and 49 Republicans. Alaska has yet to confirm a candidate, but most analysts expect Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan to emerge victorious. Both senate seats in Georgia are headed to a runoff election on Jan. 5. If Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win their respective races, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would serve as the tie-breaker in favor of the Democrats.
(Sources: Open Secrets, New York Times, Associated Press)