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Update On Balance Of Power On Capitol Hill


House and Senate Republicans are enjoying a much better election than anticipated. Republicans are now poised to maintain their majority in the Senate.


SUSAN COLLINS: I just received a very gracious call from Sara Gideon conceding the race.


CORNISH: The voice of Republican Senator Susan Collins speaking earlier today in Maine, a state that Democrats had considered a must-win to have a chance at flipping the Senate. Now, in the House, Republicans are expected to pick up seats, shrinking the Democrats' majority down to single digits. For more on this, NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here.

Hey there, Sue.


CORNISH: What went wrong, so to speak, for Democrats?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, it's been a complete reversal of fortune for Republicans down the ballot. There had been this widespread confidence that Democrats were going to take over the Senate, that they could gain as many as six or seven seats, and that Democrats were poised to grow their majority in the House by as many as 10 to 20 seats. Obviously, none of that happened. I think the one thing everyone is pointing to right now is just how wrong the polls were. I think in that Maine Senate race, that's a great example. That Democrat, Sara Gideon, she led in public polls all year long and yet still fell far behind in the race.

I talked to election analyst Sean Trende this morning, and he told me that polling simply did not account for Trump support, that a significant number of Trump voters just were never accounted for.

SEAN TRENDE: Those are the exact people that when you hear a phone call, and the person says, hi, I'm from The New York Times, would you take a poll? Just go click. I think it is that straightforward.

DAVIS: I also talked to Democratic Congressman Ami Bera of California today, and he said that the polling was way off from where it was in the 2018 midterms. And that's when Democrats won. He basically told me he just thinks Democrats couldn't account for the effect that Trump has when he himself is on the ballot.

CORNISH: While it looks like Republicans will hold their majority in the Senate, not all races have been called. Can you tell us what's still outstanding?

DAVIS: Yeah, there's still five races that haven't been called. Forty-seven have been called for Democrats, 48 for Republicans. One we're watching really closely is Michigan. There's a Democratic incumbent there, Gary Peters. He's running narrowly behind a Republican, John James. Obviously, what could be a pickup opportunity for Republicans. North Carolina remains really tight, but incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis is leading. You know, that was always seen as a state that was critical to the majority. So if Republicans hold it, I think that's one of the reasons why they seem to feel pretty secure right now.

Alaska hasn't been called, but I don't really see any reason there to think it's going to be a Democratic pickup. And the last one is Georgia. There's two Senate races there. One of them is going to go to a January runoff. And it's quite possible the other one, where it's held by incumbent Republican David Perdue, might be able to hold it off and win it outright.

CORNISH: Given that there are some races that are going to be uncertain, at least for the next few days, does that - what does that mean for the Senate majority?

DAVIS: It does. And, you know, depending on how Georgia goes, it could take quite some time. North Carolina in particular could be tight and could be subject to court challenge. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to that reality earlier today in Kentucky.


MITCH MCCONNELL: You can anticipate in close elections, both sides will be lawyered up and will end up in court. It's happened over and over and over again. Nothing unusual.

DAVIS: And I do want to say here, I think McConnell has a point. And it's worth focusing on that because I think a lot of people are really nervous about what's going to be happening with ballot challenges. It's really not uncommon, especially in Senate races, to go through court challenges before they are certified. It happens almost every election year.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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