RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democrat Cal Cunningham conceded to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina on Tuesday, saying “the voters have spoken” and it was clear Tillis had won.
With Cunningham’s concession, all eyes turned to Georgia, where two U.S. Senate runoff races in January are likely to determine the balance of the upper chamber.
With votes still uncounted and the races in North Carolina and Alaska still too early to call Tuesday, the Senate remained tied 48-48. Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan is favored for another term against Al Gross, an independent running as a Democrat. If the Senate ended up tied 50-50, Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would wield the tie breaking vote.
Georgia is closely divided, with Democrats making gains on Republicans, fueled by a surge of new voters. But no Democrat has been elected senator in 20 years.
In North Carolina, Tillis led Cunningham by more than 95,000 votes, or 1.76 percentage points.
“I just called Sen. Tillis to congratulate him on winning reelection to a second term in the U.S. Senate and wished him and his family the best in their continued service in the months and years ahead,” Cunningham said. “The voters have spoken and I respect their decision.”
Cunningham lost despite outraising Tillis during what became the most expensive U.S. Senate race in U.S. history. All together, the two campaigns and outside groups spent $282 million on the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tillis benefited from fallout over a Cunningham sex scandal in the campaign’s final month. Cunningham admitted to a recent extramarital relationship with a public relations consultant. Tillis said Cunningham’s emphasis on his personal story in the campaign made the misconduct a defining issue.
Tillis was one of President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders during impeachment but was criticized by the GOP base last year when he initially took a stance opposite the president on how to fund the border wall. Tillis later changed his mind.
“This was a hard-fought campaign and I wish nothing but the best to Cal and his family going forward,” Tillis said in a statement. “I am incredibly humbled by the chance to serve the people of North Carolina in the United States Senate for six more years and I pledge to continue keeping my promises and delivering results.”