(Reuters) - Voters will decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Senate in a Tuesday election battle spanning 14 competitive races, though the final outcome may not be clear for some time.
Republicans currently hold a majority of 53 seats in the 100-seat Senate. But Democrats are favored by three nonpartisan U.S. elections forecasters - the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections -- to emerge with a Senate majority. That could lead to a new era in U.S. politics, if their party also captures the White House and holds onto the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here is a look at Senate races that hold the key to the balance of power in Congress next year:
Freshman Republican Senator Dan Sullivan is favored to hold onto his seat in a closely contested election battle against Al Gross, an independent who is running as the Democratic Party nominee.
The latest polling shows Sullivan with a slim 3 percentage point lead over Gross, according to the poll-tracking website FiveThirtyEight.com. But polling data has shifted the lead back and forth in recent weeks. Gross has also out-fundraised Sullivan by a factor of more than 2-to-1.
Republican Senator Martha McSally lags Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in fundraising and trails him by an average of nearly 6 percentage points in opinion polls, according to the campaign tracking website RealClearPolitics.com.
McSally, a former U.S. representative and U.S. Air Force combat pilot, was appointed to the seat once held by the late Republican Senator John McCain after losing her 2018 Senate bid to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Kelly, a former astronaut and U.S. Navy combat pilot, has been leading McSally in opinion polls for more than a year.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner, a former U.S. representative who entered the Senate in 2015, is among the most vulnerable Senate Republicans partly because of his allegiance to Trump in a state that has gone Democratic in the last three presidential elections.
Democrat challenger John Hickenlooper, a former two-term governor and 2020 presidential hopeful, had raised far more money than Gardner as the race entered its final weeks and holds a popular vote margin of 7 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
First-term Republican Senator David Perdue, a wealthy businessman who promotes himself as a Trump ally, trails Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by a razor-thin 1 percentage point margin, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Ossoff, an investigative journalist and media executive, ran a powerful campaign for a U.S. House of Representatives special election in 2017 but ultimately lost. Democrats believe he could oust Perdue, partly as a result of public dislike for Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit Georgia hard.
Perdue's is one of two Georgia Senate seats that could be settled by a January runoff if no candidates receives more than 50% of the vote.
In an election fluke caused by the retirement of former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, both of Georgia's U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs on Tuesday.
Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed as Isakson's replacement last year, is running in a multi-party, multi-candidate "jungle primary" special election, featuring a powerful Republican opponent, Representative Doug Collins.
The contest is widely expected to end in a January run-off election. But as Loeffler and Collins battle each other for Republican votes, Democrat Raphael Warnock leads in the polls and had more cash on hand than either Republican as the race entered its final weeks.
Count slows as final answer remains elusive
With all eyes are on Pennsylvania, the vote count has turned into a slow grind with election officials dealing with damaged ballots, overseas mail-in ballots, and some ballots that are separated for a pending legal fight.
The count continues, but the fat lady is surely warming up the vocal cords.
In Georgia, there will be a recount, but Biden still looks set to flip the state as he slowly grows his lead there.
In Nevada, people who were contacted about irregularities in their ballot have been queuing up to "cure" their vote and ensure it is included in the final count. A path for Trump to overcome Biden's lead there looks very unlikely.
In Arizona, Biden's lead has fallen further, but AP and Fox News have still called the state for Biden.
Here's the current tally:
Pennsylvania – Biden lead 14,500+
Georgia – Biden lead 4,200+
Nevada – Biden lead 20,100+
Arizona – Biden lead 38,000+
With the US network's hesitant to call this race too soon, a definitive projection on who will be the US president on January 20 is still to come. It may even take days.
Joe Biden was due to speak in the coming hours and president Trump is clearly concerned he will try and do what he did on election night and claim victory.
With the atmosphere at the White House described as "chaos" by journalists, it is clear Donald Trump is going down swinging.
Check back at Yahoo News Australia for the latest updates.
Biden lead jumps in Georgia
Joe Biden has grown his lead in Georgia to 4,263 votes, after a new batch from Gwinnett County was added, which was expected to be Biden-friendly.
There is certainly going to be a recount in the state so the bigger the buffer, obviously the better for Biden.
"There have been recounts before, it is rare that they have a significant impact," CNN's Anderson Cooper said.
The New York Times demographic and data analyst, Nate Cohn, said we may not have a final answer for weeks.
"I don't think we're getting a call here for weeks, but given that we have such a good accounting of what's outstanding, it's hard to see Trump winning this without a tabulation error," he tweeted.
Party rolls on in Philly, Biden lead grows
As the count trickles in, Joe Biden is adding to his lead in the state of Pennsylvania. As of the latest count, it now stands slightly higher at 14,281. We should expect a batch of about 35,000 counted ballots to come from Pittsburgh soon.
Meanwhile a colourful array of folks have returned to the Philadelphia Convention Centre where votes are still being counted in that city.
Looks like fun.
We're into the fourth day of this election party. Source: Getty
Residents dancing in the streets
Out in the suburbs of west Philadelphia, they were literally dancing in the streets to the news that Biden had taken the lead in the state earlier.
'I'm Coming Out' by Dianna Ross could be heard blaring over a sound system as residents danced outside theirs homes and passing motorists honked their horns in delight.
The city has voted overwhelmingly for Biden, and it shows.
Trump is 'angry, frustrated and watching TV'
With Joe Biden due to make a prime time appearance in a few hours, the president is not scheduled to front the media currently.
According to CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, he is doing what he does.
Earlier, Collins tweeted there was a "frenzied" atmosphere in the White House and that some staff were already looking for their next job.
"The atmosphere inside the West Wing is being described as a bit frenzied as reality sets in that Biden is only pulling further ahead. Trump's closest aides seem to be working to manage his frustration. Mark Meadows [Trump's chief of staff] is focused on Pennsylvania. And many others are looking for jobs," she tweeted.
Military ballots still outstanding in Georgia
As the president has been alluding to in tweets, there are some outstanding military ballots that could still arrive in Georgia.
Speaking at a press conference a few hours ago, the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger said they will need to arrive by the end of Friday (local time), to be included in the count.
"There are 8,890 military ballots outstanding that will be counted if they were returned by the close of business today," he told the media.
Joe Biden holds a slender lead of about 1500 votes.
Why haven't they called Pennsylvania yet?
A close margin and a large number of outstanding votes are what’s making the Pennsylvania contest too early to call.
The Democratic challenger opened a lead of more than 13,600 votes Friday morning over Trump, from more than 6.5 million votes cast. State law dictates that a recount must be held if the margin between the two candidates is less than 0.5 per cent, which it currently is.
There are roughly 100,000 mail-in ballots still to count, which have so far favoured Biden by a rate of about about three to one.
However, as MSNBC's Steve Kornacki points out, due to potential irregularities it's not certain the totality will get counted. That will impact the lead Biden will build.
Additionally, there are about 100,000 provisional ballots which are the result of people requesting a mail-in ballot but then voting in person without the proper materials. They might not favour Biden in the same way, and might even favour Trump.
If you're interested in understanding this a little better, just watch Steve:
Biden could sweep remaining key states
Here's where we're at with the key vote counts that remain ongoing. Biden now leads in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona.
Again, Arizona has already been called for Biden by AP. Nevada looks certain to go to him but networks are being cautious because its six electoral votes would put him at exactly 270 – the magical winning mark.
So as Biden builds his lead in Pennsylvania, that call could be the tipping point.
There are still Alaska and North Carolina out there. The former will go to Trump, North Carolina is closer a race but we won't know where that count is going until November 12.
Can we call it a blue wave? Source: CNN
Trump team 'backing away' from the president: CNN
According to CNN's Jim Acosta, officials in the White House and the Trump campaign are already eyeing the exits with the writing on the wall.
"Sources close to the White House said some senior officials inside the White House and the campaign are beginning to quietly back away from Trump, in acts of self-preservation, as the returns in Pennsylvania and Georgia indicate the President will not win reelection," he reported.
Trump, however, reportedly wants to dig in and keep firing off legal fights until the electors of the Electoral College system meet in mid December and officially elect the next president.
Update from Trump
The Trump campaign has just posted this statement from the president:
“We believe the American people deserve to have full transparency into all vote counting and election certification, and that this is no longer about any single election.
"This is about the integrity of our entire election process.
"From the beginning we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn.
"We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government.
"I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”
A close contest between Republican Senator Joni Ernst and Democrat Theresa Greenfield appeared to tighten in the Republican's favor in the final days of the campaign. Ernst leads Greenfield, an urban planner and real estate developer, by an average of 2 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Greenfield has accused Ernst of being a rubber stamp for Trump and not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough. Ernst, who is trailing Greenfield in campaign money, has sought to use her role in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to appeal to conservative-leaning voters.
Not since 1932 has a Democrat won a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, one of the country's most reliably Republican states. But this year, Democratic state Senator Barbara Bollier and Republican Representative Roger Marshall are locked in a tight race for the seat of Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who is retiring.
Marshall leads Bollier by a popular vote margin of just over 5 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, even though the Democrat has raised more than four times in campaign donations.
Four-term Republican Senator Susan Collins, a New England moderate long known for her independence, has seen her popularity flag among voters amid criticism that she failed to be a moderating force in the Senate during Trump's presidency.
Her Democratic challenger, Maine House of Representatives Speaker Sara Gideon, leads Collins in opinion polls and has massively out-fundraised the Republican. But the race has tightened in Collins' favor in recent days, and the contest could be forced into a series of runoffs if no candidate has more than 50% of the vote.
Republican Senator Steve Daines is running neck-and-neck against two-term Governor Steve Bullock, a former presidential candidate who has branded himself as an independent-minded Democrat. Daines, a former congressman and software executive, is known as a reliable conservative and has touted his ties to Trump.
Bullock was a late entry, jumping into the race in March. But he managed to raise funds quickly and shows signs of holding a small lead over Daines in the final stretch.
North Carolina has erupted into one of the most dramatic Senate races in the country, with Democrat Cal Cunningham's candidacy tripped up by a sex scandal after he had dominated the campaign for months.
Once among the Democratic Party's strongest Senate candidates, Cunningham has seen his double-digit lead over Republican Senator Thom Tillis erode to low single digits. But it is not clear whether a sex scandal in the age of Trump can fully overcome the tide of political polarization that has largely run against Tillis up to now.
Veteran Republican Senator John Cornyn is favored to hold his seat against a determined challenge from Democrat M.J. Hegar. But unprecedented early turnout by more than 9.7 million Texas voters could make an upset more likely, especially if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden winds up carrying the state in the presidential race.
Cornyn, who has been in the Senate since 2002, holds a small lead over Hegar. But the Republican's advantage in the polls has narrowed, while the Democrat entered the final two weeks of the campaign with a substantial cash advantage.
Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump's closest allies in Congress, was last re-elected to the Senate in 2014 with more than 55% of the vote. But this year, he is favored to win by only a small margin against Democrat Jaime Harrison, who is running a powerful campaign backed by staggering fundraising numbers.
Recent polls show Graham with a slight lead over Harrison, based partly on his role in overseeing Barrett's confirmation. Once a Trump critic, Graham faces skepticism among conservatives over his recent conversion to Trump ally, while the loss of his former maverick persona has disappointed moderates, analysts say.
Senator Doug Jones, considered the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, won election to the seat that Republican Jeff Sessions vacated to become Trump's attorney general in 2017. In a state normally considered safe for Republican candidates, Jones bested former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, whose campaign was snarled by allegations of sexual misconduct involving young women.
The Democrat now faces former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, a Republican who defeated Sessions' attempted comeback earlier this year. Tuberville has seen his lead widen in the closing weeks of the campaign, despite more aggressive fundraising by Jones.
Democratic Senator Gary Peters has a small lead over Republican challenger John James in a state that represents a major battleground for Trump's re-election bid.
The race leans in Peters' direction, according to analysts. But James, a Michigan businessman, has run a strong campaign, raising Republican hopes that he could score an upset victory over the incumbent on Election Day.
(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)