WASHINGTON (CNN) – Two years ago, Republicans had every reason to believe they could take back the Senate this year, after major midterm election gains. But heading into Tuesday, Democrats appeared well-positioned to retain their slim majority, and with it, the ability to influence much of the Washington agenda during the next two years.
There are 33 Senate seats at play on Tuesday, with polls showing a number of key races neck-and-neck.
Republicans would need four seats to win the chamber outright; just three if a Republican were to win the White House and a GOP vice president could break tie votes.
Republicans are protecting only 10 seats, while Democrats are defending 23, many in narrowly divided swing states. In addition, several veteran Democratic incumbents, mostly moderates, announced they would retire, making it potentially even easier for Republicans to win those seats.
In August, the campaign of Rep. Todd Akin nearly collapsed after the Missouri Republican’s comments about “legitimate rape” and his suggestion that women could biologically prevent pregnancy if they are raped. Until then, Republicans believed Akin would defeat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who polls showed was not very popular after just one term.
Democrats were victorious in West Virginia, with incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin’s win, according to CNN’s projection. Independent Bernie Sanders, who votes with the Democratic party, is also projected to win in Vermont.
Maine voters handed a victory to the independent candidate, former Gov. Angus King, to fill the seat of retired Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican, CNN projects. Considered a shoo-in for re-election, Snowe shocked her colleagues earlier this year when she suddenly announced that she would leave the Senate, which she described as hopelessly partisan.