ST. PAUL — Despite pre-election polls showing razor-thin margins, Minnesota's Democratic incumbent U.S. senator held her ground against her Republican challenger in a pivotal race for Republicans fighting to maintain control over the U.S. Senate and Democrats seeking to flip it.

At 12:16 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Associated Press called the race for U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, with roughly 99% of precincts reporting, early results from the Minnesota Secretary of State showed a lead for Smith, with about 49% of votes counted for her and nearly 43% for Republican challenger Jason Lewis.

In an early-morning written statement Wednesday, Smith said she was "honored, and grateful" for her reelection to a six-year term. She promised "every week I will go to work thinking about you, and working for you" — even for those who didn't vote for her, she said.

"(T)o all the Minnesotans who voted for Mr. Lewis, I want you to know that I am your Senator also," Smith said. "We may not always agree, but I will always listen, and look for common ground and I’ll work just as hard for you as for those who voted for me."

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In the days leading up to Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, polls for the race had tightened, with Smith polling within the margin-of-error of Lewis — a Republican former-congressman and conservative talk radio show host. Republican strategists in Minnesota and Washington had dubbed the race a key flip opportunity for Republicans, and a chance for them to hold onto their majority in the U.S. Senate.

Jason Lewis
Jason Lewis

Smith had been leading in early results since early in the night, but Lewis showed confidence when speaking at the Minnesota Republican Party's election night watch party at 8:40 p.m., referring to himself as "your next senator."

Smith has occupied Minnesota's junior U.S. Senate seat since January 2018, while Lewis served one term in the U.S. House representing Minnesota's suburban Congressional District 2 before being voted out less than two years later.

Both candidates have attempted to paint the other as extremists on their respective sides of the aisle, Lewis looping Smith in with progressives who are calling to "defund the police" and Smith laser-focusing on Lewis's allegiance to President Donald Trump. The statewide race has become a microcosm of the larger battle over Minnesota's political identity, with Republicans vying to flip the reliably blue state red with the help of Trump's appeal in Greater Minnesota.

Kevin O'Connor of the Legal Marijuana Now Party and Oliver Steinberg of the Grassroots — Legalize Cannabis Party were also on the ballot.

Less than two weeks before Election Day, an Oct. 21 poll of likely Minnesota voters conducted by KSTP and SurveyUSA showed the candidates in a dead heat race, with Smith leading Lewis 43-42 and 12% of voters still undecided. The margin of error was +/- 5 points.

The stakes are high for Senate Democrats and Republicans: In October, U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told The Hill that he sees the Smith/Lewis race as one that could be key to maintaining a GOP majority in the Senate.

Elections officials in Minnesota and across the country have made it clear to Americans that final results for the presidential contest and down-ballot races will in all likelihood not be finalized until days or even weeks after Election Day. This is not evidence of fraud or tampering. Foreseeing a dramatic influx of mail-in votes due to the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota allowed elections offices to begin opening and counting mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day.