Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states across the country shifted momentum in the presidential race from progressive Senator Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden. But the race to see which Democrat will challenge President Donald Trump in the November general election was far from the only contest with far-reaching political consequences.
Primary voting in a handful of key states also revealed more about Republicans' battle to maintain control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats have held the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the last two years and hope to wrest away control of the Senate. Democratic control of both chambers would have a major impact on the next president's term in office, regardless of party.
If he's reelected, Trump would have a hard time passing any major legislation through a Democratic-controlled Congress. And a President Biden or Sanders would be unable to get their ambitious agendas off the ground if the Republican majority in the Senate holds. Currently, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber.
Analysts say Biden's success Tuesday points to a way forward for Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate.
"There is a desire to continue to kind of go forward with what was the 2018 strategy for Democrats that was very successful for them," said Dr. Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of political management at George Washington University. "That strategy is really about finding candidates who fit their constituency, mostly those candidates in large statewide races that are going to be more moderate rather than progressive."
The U.S. Senate race in Alabama drew national attention as former Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions took on a crowded Republican field that included Rep. Bradley Byrne, political newcomer Tommy Tuberville, and Judge Roy Moore, who lost a 2017 special election following allegations of sexual misconduct.
The results Tuesday moved the race into a run-off set for March 31 between Tuberville and Sessions — who held that Senate seat until he resigned to serve in the Trump administration.
"Tuberville is extremely popular," said David Barker, a professor of government at American University and the director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. "He is the former head football coach at Auburn and has a lot of a positive athletic effect built up toward him because of that. And secondly, there's the personal dynamic between Trump and Sessions. I think that we can anticipate Trump endorsing Tuberville."
Trump already appeared to be moving in that direction Wednesday morning, weighing in on Twitter to criticize his former attorney general. "This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn't have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins!"
The eventual winner of the Republican primary will go up against Senator Doug Jones, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in the special election in 2017.
Texas is a focus for many in the 2020 election cycle, as political analysts wait to see if the state's changing demographics will push it away from being a traditionally Republican stronghold to a so-called "purple state" — a mix of Republican "red" and Democratic "blue" that gives either political party a chance of winning a statewide contest.
Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke's fundraising and mobilization strategies while challenging incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 led many to believe the shift was a possibility. Cruz narrowly defeated O'Rourke 51%-48%.
In 2020, Democrats are looking to unseat 18-year Senate veteran John Cornyn. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar — who narrowly lost a 2018 race for the Texas 31st Congressional district — didn't secure enough votes to avoid a May runoff against other Democrats. Hegar has the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee while the second spot is still being decided between state senator Royce West and Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, who had the backing of national progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But Hegar faces a much tougher road than O'Rourke, analysts say.
"John Cornyn is no Ted Cruz," Barker said. "He's much more popular than Ted Cruz and if Beto O'Rourke couldn't beat Ted Cruz two years ago, I think there's no reason to think that John Cornyn is going to be threatened."
Democrats likely will need to unseat longtime Trump Senate ally Senator Thom Tillis if they are to have any hope of flipping control of the U.S. Senate in November. Tillis easily won his primary challenge to go up against Democrat Cal Cunningham, a former state senator.
Barker describes North Carolina as a critical state for Democrats' goal of taking control of the Senate.
"There are only so many states that are up at any given cycle, and only so many that are swing states where there's any chance of it flipping," he said.
North Carolina — along with Arizona, Colorado and Maine — is one of those states.
"To get back the Senate, they have to win three out of four between Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina. Of those, North Carolina is probably the least likely, but with Cunningham at the top of the ticket, and depending on how things shake out and in the presidential race, they have a chance."
Democrats do have their work cut out. Tillis lacked serious primary challengers, allowing him to save his campaign cash for the general election. The Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that analyzes elections, rates the North Carolina race as "Leans Republican."