US Senate Control Comes Down to Who Wins Two of Last Three Races

(Bloomberg) -- The struggle for control of the US Senate boiled down to three races, with each party needing to win two of those states to secure a majority, as fractious Republicans limped along toward a tenuous hold on the House.

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Republicans didn’t achieve the midterm election wave they expected, and some House conservatives expressed frustrations with party leaders for failing to deliver a larger majority.

As things stand, Republicans have won 206 House seats and hold leads in 14 more, compared to 183 wins for Democrats, who are leading in 32 contests. At least 218 are needed to claim a majority. It could take days to know the balance of power as officials count mail-in ballots in dozens of close races. And some may be subject to recounts and court challenges.

In the Senate, Democrats won a significant victory with John Fetterman taking a previously GOP-held seat in Pennsylvania by defeating celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. But they were unable to flip the Senate seat in Wisconsin, incumbent Republican Ron Johnson won over Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

Democrats need 50 seats to control the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote while GOP needs to capture 51. With Republicans currently locked into 49 Senate seats and Democrats at 48, these three states are key:

Georgia

The contest between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker is headed toward a dramatic runoff next month after neither candidate was able to grab 50% of the vote.

Results in the nation’s most expensive race showed Warnock up on the former collegiate and NFL football star 49.4% to 48.5%, with 98% of the votes counted. Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver was drawing 2.1% of the vote, forcing the runoff.

During the campaign, Walker and other Republicans sought to tie Warnock and his policies to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings have sagged amid stubbornly high inflation. But Walker was weighed down by personal baggage, including allegations of domestic violence and that Walker paid for two women’s abortions while publicly supporting limitations on the procedure.

Biden won the state by less than 12,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast in 2020.

Arizona

Democratic Senator Mark Kelly was leading GOP candidate Blake Masters, who had embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, 51% to 46.6% with a little more than two-thirds of the ballots tallied.

Arizona has become a swing state and Kelly first won his Senate seat in a 2020 special election with just 51% of the vote, which Republicans saw as a vulnerability. But Masters struggled to lure support from swing voters and moderate Republicans. He called the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol a “false flag” operation, suggested Social Security should be privatized, and said that “Black people, frankly” were responsible for the rise in gun violence.

Officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the state’s most populous, plan to release an additional batch of votes Wednesday.

Biden won the state in 2020 by less than a percentage point.

Nevada

Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto was trailing Adam Laxalt by almost 3 percentage points with about two-thirds of the vote counted.

Voters in the battleground state have strongly supported abortion rights, an issued emphasized by Cortez Masto, but they face some of the country’s most severe housing and energy inflation, which played into Laxalt’s hands.

Cortez Masto, a first term senator, enjoyed a fund-raising edge in the race, and had the advantage of a party machine built by her predecessor, the late Democratic leader Harry Reid, including the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union known for its door-knocking muscle.

Laxalt, a son and grandson of New Mexico and Nevada senators who early on unified the Trump and establishment wings of his state’s Republican Party, had attacked the incumbent for spending bills and regulations he said encouraged inflation and higher gasoline prices -- as well as over security at the US border with Mexico.

Biden won Nevada by 2.3 percentage points in the 2020 election.

Overall, Biden likely will be able to claim the best midterm performance for an incumbent president’s party in 20 years, though it still means his agenda will be blocked with Republicans poised to control the House.

At a news conference Wednesday, he said Democrats had a “strong night.” But he acknowledged that voters made clear their concerns about inflation and crime, two issues Republicans campaigned heavily on. Biden also said the outcome signaled voters connected with Democrats’ messages on abortion and democracy.

“I will veto any attempt to pass a national ban on abortion, but I’m ready to compromise with Republicans where it makes sense on many other issues,” Biden said Wednesday from the White House.

He later spoke with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, according to a White House statement on Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, McCarthy formally told House Republicans that he would seek the speakership.

Nationwide, initial turnout projections show a turnout rate of 48.5%, just shy of the 50% rate in the 2018 midterms -- which was the highest for a midterm since 1914, according to data from the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.

The results send a mixed message from voters, who are not just worried about the slowing economy but also about the health of the country’s democracy. Two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, but candidates who denied the validity of the 2020 election lost most of their bids to oversee future votes.

Democratic messages about abortion rights resonated more with Americans than pre-election polls captured, and voters in key battlegrounds largely rejected the political extremism espoused by former President Donald Trump and the candidates he endorsed.

The outcome was all the more surprising because concerns about stubborn inflation and crime had been the dominant theme with voters before Tuesday.

--With assistance from Billy House, Gregory Korte, Mike Dorning, Laura Davison, Laura Litvan and Jennifer Jacobs.

(Updates with Biden talking to McCarthy, in 22nd paragraph.)

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