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Republicans make history by growing Senate majority while losing House

Mareen Groppe

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WASHINGTON – Republicans held onto the Senate – and were on track to expand their narrow majority – after toppling Democratic incumbents in at least Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri.

As the night wore on, Republicans were ahead by narrow margins in other key Senate races in Florida, Montana and Arizona. 

But Democrats won a race in Nevada against the only incumbent Republican up for reelection in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Associated Press said Sen. Dean Heller conceded to Democrat Jacky Rosen.

Although the party that controls the White House has typically lost Senate seats in midterm elections, Democrats had the disadvantage of defending most of the seats on the ballot, including 10 in states carried by President Donald Trump.

The Senate losses for Democrats came even as their party captured the House.

It was the first time since the nation started directly electing senators in 1914 that a party has won control of the House without gaining seats in the Senate. The gains are significant because a larger Republican plurality will make it easier for Trump to have cabinet and judicial nominees approved.

"Democrats threw everything they had at our Senate majority, and we held the line," said Steven Law, who oversees political groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, which spent more than $123 million helping GOP candidates.

While Democrats celebrated their House victory, the Senate gains were a victory for Trump, who had devoted much of his energy in the final stretch of the campaign to helping Republican Senate candidates.

Trump sounded jubilant. He tweeted a quote he attributed to Ben Stein saying “ there’s only been 5 times in the last 105 years that an incumbent President has won seats in the Senate in the off year election. Mr. Trump has magic about him. This guy has magic coming out of his ears. He is an astonishing vote getter & campaigner."

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who had sold himself as an independent thinker in a state easily won by Trump, lost to GOP challenger Mike Braun.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, while in Missouri Republican Josh Hawley defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, the Associated Press projected.

McCaskill, a moderate, had sought to persuade voters she was “not one of those crazy Democrats,” as she sought re-election in an increasingly conservative state that Trump carried by 19 percentage points in 2016.

Heitkamp had tried to focus on local issues and her moderate record but was hurt by the nationalization of the race through the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott had a slim lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a race that may be headed for an automatic recount.

"We are proceeding to a recount," Nelson said Wednesday morning. His spokesman had said Tuesday night that the results were not what the campaign had worked hard for, leading some Florida papers to report that Nelson had conceded..

Scott, a two-term governor and former healthcare CEO spent more than $50 million of his own fortune to win and Trump had campaigned intensively for him.