Late-breaking races are washing away Trump’s near-'complete victory' in midterms

Andrew Romano
West Coast Correspondent
Donald Trump, Andrew Gillum, Kyrsten Sinema and Bill Nelson. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Evan Vucci/AP, AP (3), Ross D. Franklin/AP)

“It was a big day yesterday, incredible day,” Donald Trump said Wednesday, offering his take on the 2018 midterm results. “I thought it was very close to a complete victory.”

He meant, of course, for himself. But 48 hours later, Trump’s “victory” was already being washed away as undecided races — and even some that appeared solid — increasingly broke for the Democrats. The developments prompted a particularly unhinged series of tweets by Trump, alleging vote fraud in Florida and Arizona, without evidence, and even speculating about the need for a new election.

Not that the president’s “complete victory” was ever really much of a victory to begin with. By the time Trump spoke Wednesday, Democrats had already gained 28 U.S. House seats, enough to recapture a majority, as well as seven governorshipssix state legislative chambers and more than 300 state House and Senate seats.

At that point, the one bright spot for the president’s party was the U.S. Senate, where Democrats had managed to flip only one seat (Nevada), while Republicans had picked up three (Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana) and looked likely to flip a fourth (Florida).

But as of Friday, with a few outstanding contests still too close to call, it appears possible that Democrats could wind up gaining as many as 43 House seats, more than almost any expert predicted ­— and even turn a disappointing showing in the Senate into a near-draw.

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Here’s where things stand.

On the Senate side, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has taken a 9,163-vote lead over Republican Rep. Martha McSally in the fierce battle for retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake’s Arizona seat — a battle that McSally appeared to be winning on election night, when she led by more than 17,000 votes. Additional batches of mail-in ballots have boosted Sinema, especially in Maricopa County, home to three-fifths of the state’s population and accounting for 345,000 of the 450,000 votes yet to be counted. So far, Sinema, who ran as a centrist, is performing much better than past Democratic candidates in Republican-leaning Maricopa, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs; the question that will decide the race is whether that pattern continues.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema talks to volunteers at a get-out-the-vote phone bank in Phoenix, alongside members of Veterans for Sinema, on Nov. 1. (Photo: Bob Christie/AP)

“Yesterday and this morning confirmed our expectation that as the ballots are counted, Kyrsten will steadily build her advantage,” Andrew Piatt, Sinema’s campaign manager, said Friday. “We are confident trends will continue in Kyrsten’s direction and that she will be elected Arizona’s next U.S. senator.”

In response, Arizona Republicans are leveling charges of election fraud at Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, and seeking to block the count — a suit that will be heard in court Friday afternoon.

At the same time, a similar situation is unfolding in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has been shrinking — from 56,000 to 15,000 — since various media outlets declared Scott the victor on election night. The changing margin is due to continued vote-counting in Broward and Palm Beach, two of Florida’s largest and most Democratic counties. A recount seems likely at this point, and Democrats believe that Nelson could very well prevail. As in Arizona, Scott and other Republicans are suing, and Trump is tweeting.

If Sinema hangs on, and if Nelson comes back, that would cut GOP gains in the Senate to a single seat — and take away Trump’s main post-Election Day talking point.

The House, meanwhile, looks even worse for Republicans.

Since the president’s declaration of “complete victory,” five House races have been called: two for the GOP (Mark Harris won North Carolina’s Ninth District, southeast of Charlotte; Jim Hagedorn flipped Minnesota’s First District, along the state’s southern border) and three for Democrats (Lucy McBath won Georgia’s Sixth District, outside Atlanta; Kim Schrier won Washington’s Eighth, southeast of Seattle; Katie Hill won California’s 25th, north of Los Angeles). That puts the Democratic Party’s current House gains at 30.

Republican Mark Harris at a news conference in Matthews, N.C., on Wednesday. (Photo: Chuck Burton/AP)

Another 13 House contests remain officially winnerless. Of those, Democratic candidates feel confident enough to have already declared victory in three: California’s 49th District, near San Diego, where environmental lawyer Mike Levin leads Republican Diane Harkey by 7 percentage points; New Jersey’s Third, where Democratic national security official Andy Kim inched ahead of GOP incumbent Tom MacArthur Wednesday; and New York’s 22nd, east of Syracuse, where Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi holds a narrow edge over Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney.

So far, none of the Republicans in these races have conceded, but only Tenney still has a real shot: A technical error was discovered Thursday that narrowed Brindisi’s margin to just 1,293 votes, and 17,000 absentee and military ballots remain uncounted. In New Jersey, most of the outstanding 7,200 ballots were cast in Democratic precincts, so they are likely to pad Kim’s 4,500-vote lead; in California, mail-in ballots, which can arrive as late as Friday, tend to lean Democratic as well.

As for the other undecided House races, four also were in California — meaning that Democrats should continue to make gains as thousands of eleventh-hour mail-in ballots arrive at election offices. In the 48th, businessman Harley Rouda already leads incumbent GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher by more than 2 percentage points; in the 10th (Modesto, Rep. Jeff Denham), the 39th (Fullerton, Ed Royce’s former seat) and the 45th (Irvine, Rep. Mimi Walters), Republicans are ahead — but none by more than 2.6 percent. It’s likely that Democrats will wind up winning some of these contests — and possible that they could win all of them.

Harley Rouda, Democratic congressional candidate in the 48th district, kisses his wife Kaira at his election night party in Newport Beach, Calif. (Photo: Kyusung Gong/AP)

Democrats are also likely to pick up additional seats in Utah, New Mexico and Maine. South of Salt Lake City, in Utah’s Fourth District, Republican Rep. Mia Love trails Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams by 3 percentage points, and there are more mail ballots left to count from McAdams’ territory than Love’s. Trump, for one, has already written off Love. “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” he said Wednesday. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Meanwhile, in New Mexico’s Second District, south of Albuquerque, GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell’s election night lead evaporated the following day when absentee ballots from Doña Ana County unexpectedly put Democrat Xochitl Torres Small ahead. Finally, in Maine’s Second District, north of Portland, neither Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin nor Democratic state Rep. Jared Golden has received a majority of the vote, which means the state’s new system of ranked-choice voting will determine the winner — a process that favors Golden because it redistributes the votes of the third- and fourth-place finishers, independents William Hoar and Tiffany Bond, based on how their voters ranked Golden and Poliquin. Exit polling suggests that those votes are likely to go to the Democrat.

All told, that’s roughly 10 unresolved House races that favor Democrats; if they run the table, their flip tally will hit 40.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., with his wife, Mary Sue Collins, on Tuesday. (Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP)

And in the end, it could go even higher. In New York’s 27th District, between Buffalo and Rochester, indicted Republican Rep. Chris Collins leads Democratic Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who has retracted his election night concession, by fewer than 3,000 votes, with 18,000 ballots yet to be counted. In Texas’s 23rd, along the Rio Grande border, GOP incumbent Will Hurd declared victory, then saw Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones take the lead, then inched ahead by a mere 1,000 votes when officials discovered an apparent error in the tabulations; Ortiz Jones could request a recount. And the same goes for Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who trails by 890 votes in Georgia’s Seventh District, north of Atlanta, with more than 1,500 provisional ballots remaining.

In short, the post-Election Day battle is starting to look a lot like the kind of victory Trump touted on Wednesday — just not for Trump.

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