Republican Sen. Thom Tillis fended off a tough battle to win a second term against Democrat Cal Cunningham, prevailing in a race Democrats had hoped to pick up in their quest to recapture the majority.
Tillis won 49%-47%, or by about 100,000 votes out of more than 5.3 million cast, a slightly wider margin than President Donald Trump’s lead in the Tar Heel State.
“The voters have spoken and I respect their decision,” Cunningham said Tuesday in a news release shortly after calling Tillis to concede. “While the results of this election suggest there remain deep political divisions in our state and nation, the more complete story of our country lies in what unites us: our faith and sense of confidence in our democracy, our civic values and common humanity, our shared aspiration to care for one another, and our belief that we live in a country that does exceptional things.”
The loss means Democrats’ only hopes of taking the majority are several longshot races. They still have a chance to take a seat in Alaska, though that appears slim, and two races in Georgia, which has been solidly red for about two decades. Both races in Georgia will go to a Jan. 5 runoff.
Democrats bested Republicans in Colorado, where John Hickenlooper beat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner; and in Arizona, where Sen. Martha McSally was defeated by Democrat Mark Kelly. But the party faced a setback in Alabama, where Republicans captured the Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones.
The North Carolina Senate race was filled with last-minute surprises that included the disclosure of Cunningham admitting to an extra-marital affair and Tillis contracting COVID-19. It was on track to be the most expensive congressional race in U.S. history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
As in other races, Cunningham focused on health care, using the campaign to criticize Tillis over Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for Tillis’ role as state House Speaker in opposing the expansion of Medicaid.
Tillis, for his part, tried to link Cunningham to national Democratic controversies and attacked him for not immediately disclosing the affair.
Contributing: Ledyard King