North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis has won reelection to his U.S. Senate seat, confirming that Democrats must now win both runoff races in Georgia in January if they are to seize Senate control from the GOP.
Tillis earned a second term in the U.S. Senate by defeating Democrat Cal Cunningham, whose campaign outraised Tillis during 2020.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Tillis led Cunningham by about 94,500 votes, from among more than 5.4 million votes counted so far. The tight race wasn’t called for days because county election boards were still scrutinizing provisional ballots and counting mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day that have arrived in recent days. Counties will finalize their counts Friday.
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.
Cunningham conceded the race on Tuesday, saying “the voters have spoken” and it was clear Tillis had won.
Tillis’ victory, combined with Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan’s reelection win in Alaska earlier Wednesday, gives the GOP at least 50 seats in the chamber early next year. But Senate partisan control won’t be decided until two runoffs are held in Georgia on Jan. 5. Two Democratic wins in the runoffs would create a 50-50 Senate, where Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would wield the tiebreaking vote.
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.
Tillis was a consistent proponent of wearing masks during the pandemic but had to apologize for taking them off at White House events. Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 in early October.