Democrats hold on to Senate control with Nevada win

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto at an election night hosted by Nevada Democratic Victory in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 8, 2022Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden’s Democrats retained control of the Senate with a victory in Nevada, continuing the party’s comeback in the midterm elections and making it easier to pursue the White House’s political agenda.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly edged Republican challenger Adam Laxalt in the vote count Saturday night, four days after the election, giving Democrats 50 seats in the 100-seat upper house, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote.

The control of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, remained uncertain. While Republicans looked likely to wrest a majority from Democrats, several close races in California are still too close to call. Democrats will have the chance to increase their Senate margin in a runoff next month in Georgia.

The Republican midterm losses have mostly come at the expense of candidates backed by Donald Trump, dealing a blow to the former president even as he prepares to launch a 2024 comeback bid on Tuesday.

“The American people have rejected – firmly rejected – the undemocratic, authoritarian, wicked and divisive direction that MAGA Republicans wanted to take for our country,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, said Saturday night.

Mr Biden claimed victory as an endorsement of his agenda, which included building infrastructure, tackling climate change and trying to expand the country’s social safety net.

“I am extremely pleased with the turnout, and I think it reflects the quality of our candidates. They all follow the same agenda,” he told reporters in Phnom Penh, where he is attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit. “I look forward to the next two years.”

Holding the Senate will allow Mr. Biden to continue to make appointments, including Federal Court justices, that the upper house must approve. It will also make it easier for him to try to push legislation forward.

Republicans had hoped to easily take control of Congress and the governorships of key swing states midterm, predicting a “red wave”. Instead, Democrats have so far taken all of their Senate seats and won one, in Pennsylvania, from Republicans. In that contest, Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman defeated Mr. Trump’s chosen candidate, TV doctor Mehmet Oz.

In Georgia, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock narrowly edged out former pro football star Herschel Walker, but did not get 50% of the vote. Under that state’s rules, the pair will face a runoff on December 6.

Taking the extra seat would allow Democrats to hold majorities in Senate committees and dilute the power of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, moderates who previously blocked Mr. Biden’s legislation with lengthy negotiations to secure their votes.

Midterms have been particularly bad for candidates who have embraced Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged against him. Republicans who deny the election have lost Senate contests in the swing states of Arizona and Rhode Island, and gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Mr Trump tried to shift the blame to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. In a post on his Truth Social platform on Sunday, the ex-president accused Mr. McConnell of selling out to Mr. Biden and hurled a racial slur at Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao. Taiwanese-American, Ms. Chao served as Mr. Trump’s transportation secretary.

“It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault,” Mr. Trump wrote, accusing him of “giving $4 trillion to the radical left for the Green New Deal” and claiming he “blew up the Midterms, and everyone despises him.”

Some Republicans responded to the poor midterm result with new baseless claims that the vote was rigged.

In Phoenix, some polling places had long lines on Election Day Tuesday after printers printed ballots too faintly to be read by vote-counting machines. The issue affected tens of thousands of people at around a third of polling stations, although it never interrupted voting and was resolved later in the day. Republicans claimed it was part of a nefarious plot.

“This is voter suppression targeting a political party,” tweeted Abe Hamadeh, the party’s candidate for attorney general. In a Truth Social article containing a typo, Mr. Trump wrote that Democrats “stole the electron” in Arizona and demanded they “rerun the election!”

In that state’s Senate vote, far-right Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters failed to unseat Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, a former astronaut.

Mr. Masters is in favor of reducing legal immigration; subscribes to the white national “great replacement” theory, which baselessly argues that Democrats are trying to “replace” native Americans; supports stopping US aid to Ukraine and once floated the unsubstantiated suggestion that the FBI was somehow responsible for the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill by Mr. Trump’s supporters .

The outcome of the state gubernatorial race remained too close to announce on Sunday, with Republican Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor who denied the election, nearly tied in the vote tally with the Democrat Katie Hobbs, with hundreds of thousands of ballots yet to be counted.

Neither Mr. Masters nor Mr. Laxalt conceded their races, with the Arizona candidate saying “we’re going to make sure every legal vote is counted.”

Protesters gathered outside the Maricopa County election headquarters in Phoenix on Saturday, the first such protest since the election. But those who had gathered dispersed in the evening, after Charlie Kirk, an influential far-right figure, urged people not to congregate around county buildings. “Don’t give them an excuse to stop counting votes,” he said.

Ms Lake also urged caution. “Every candidate should expect every vote to be counted,” she said Sunday morning on Fox News. She continues to believe that the uncounted ballots hold enough votes for her to win the governorship.

Arizona expects most of its ballots to be counted by Tuesday.

Controlling swing state governments is a crucial goal of election deniers. Mr. Trump’s 2020 efforts to reverse the presidential outcome failed in part because state officials refused to help him. Midterm Tuesday, Holocaust deniers were defeated in gubernatorial races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, other states that will be key in the 2024 elections.

Election deniers have also been defeated in contests in Arizona and Nevada for secretary of state, the top official who oversees elections.

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