Kelly wins in Arizona, bringing Democrats closer to retaining Senate
While Georgia’s race won’t be settled until a runoff in December, Democrats are cautiously optimistic they can clinch a majority sooner as more mail-in ballots are counted in Nevada’s tight contest.
Democratic control of the Senate would provide Biden with some leverage for his Capitol Hill agenda regardless of the outcome in the House, which also remained volatile Friday night. Republican control of the Senate would further complicate Biden’s agenda for the next two years, positioning the GOP to potentially slow or block confirmation of Biden’s cabinet members and judges.
Republicans entered the midterm elections needing just one seat to take control of the upper house of Congress, which is also divided this year. Their path to victory narrowed on election night as Democrats flipped a crucial Senate seat in Pennsylvania, with Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman (R) beating famed doctor Mehmet Oz, another Republican candidate for the first once backed by former President Donald Trump in the primaries. .
The Arizona race was one of the hottest races of the year. Kelly, a former astronaut, beat Masters, a venture capitalist, after a costly race in which the Democrat cast himself as a moderate who would work across the aisle. Some Republicans turned gloomy about their chances in the purple state this fall as Democrats overtook them and maintained a significant lead over independents. But polls showed the race narrowing to a coin toss down the home stretch.
Kelly led by nearly six percentage points with more than 80% of the ballots counted Friday night.
Arizona once seemed ripe for a GOP takeover, with particularly high inflation and a backlash in the state from the Biden administration’s border policies. The masters sought to make Kelly a rubber stamp for Biden. But like so many other races this year, Democrats prevailed despite a daunting political environment, portraying their opponent as extreme and tapping into anger over tough new abortion bans that followed the end of Roe vs. Wade.
Masters won the nomination with Trump’s endorsement and $15 million backing from tech billionaire friend and mentor Peter Thiel. He echoed the former president’s false claims about the 2020 election in a campaign ad, saying Trump had won. A first-time candidate, Masters quickly stoked some anxiety in the GOP that their candidates in critical races were underperforming.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), began pulling out of the race weeks after the primary – though other GOP groups eventually helped Masters compete on the air with Kelly, one of the Senate’s top fundraisers. .
Masters criticized McConnell in the primary and renewed that criticism this week, calling McConnell and the Republican establishment “incompetent” on Fox News.
“If he had chosen to spend the money in Arizona, this race would be over,” Masters said. “We would be celebrating a majority in the Senate right now.”
Masters offered Democrats an opening during a summer debate when he pondered the privatization of Social Security. Democrats also spent big on highlighting the evolution of his comments on abortion, as he backed down from calls for a “federal personality law” in the general election and endorsed a proposed national ban on abortion. abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Kelly’s campaign had already produced and tested negative ads against Masters ahead of the Aug. 3 primary, Kelly aides said, and found the strongest ads used Masters’ own language, particularly about abortion. and social security. In August, when Masters had limited resources and Republican groups had few TV bookings to support him, Kelly’s campaign used the vacuum to dramatically increase its TV budget.
Internally, this strategy has become known as a “surge” – a bet that spending resources early would be worth it as it would help define the rulers for voters in the general election.
In Kelly campaign polls conducted between late July and early September, unfavorable ratings for the Masters rose from 35% to 48%, said aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private strategic decisions. Masters himself identified the Democratic strategy, saying in an August 19 radio interview, “They’re trying to bomb me, you know, they’re trying to kill the baby in the crib here.”
Meanwhile, Kelly’s ads aimed to bolster his brand as an independent-minded Democrat and sought to create distance from Biden on the border issue. His first commercial addressed the economic hardship created by inflation by telling the story of his upbringing as the son of two police officers.
“From day one, this campaign has been about the many Arizonans — Democrats, Independents and Republicans — who believe in working together to address the significant challenges we face,” Kelly said in a statement Friday after the call from the race.
The Masters campaign had no comment on Friday night when asked if he would concede.
A Masters campaign fund appeal on Thursday did not allege impropriety, but argued that “some of the issues we’ve seen unfold during this election are troubling.” He added: “We expect a contested way forward and legal battles ahead.”
During a Friday night appearance on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, Masters went further, alleging without providing evidence that Maricopa County, home to more than half of the voters in the Arizona, had “mixed” the ballots twice. A campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for evidence underlying the allegations, nor did a county spokesperson immediately respond.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) edged Republican nominee Herschel Walker, a former football player, slightly. But none of the candidates reached the 50% threshold required to avoid a second round.
Also in Arizona, Democrat Adrian Fontes was expected to win the race for Secretary of State, beating Republican Mark Finchem, a far-right lawmaker who sought to monitor Arizona’s election while baselessly pushing to decertify the 2020 results.
Finchem was one of several GOP candidates for secretary of state who campaigned on Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Had he been elected, he would have been the top election official for a battleground state in 2024. The Secretary of State certifies statewide results.
“We know Republicans and Independents are interested in the truth,” Fontes said in an interview moments after his race was called. “We know they’re not interested in lies. What he is saying is that democracy, at least for now, will survive in this republic.
In Nevada, where votes were still being counted, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) narrowly trailed GOP nominee Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, on Friday. But Democrats see encouraging signs that ballots mailed from urban areas will catch up with her.
While Republicans had long expected to retake the House, a goal they have yet to achieve, they faced a more uncertain fight for the Senate. Republicans retained competitive seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin in Tuesday’s election, while Democratic incumbents prevailed in Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington state.
The GOP only needs five seats to secure a majority in the House and has said it is confident it will win there. But so far their gains have not reached a red tide, paving the way for a narrower majority in which the leaders will need more unified support from an often fractious caucus to pass their agenda.
Republican Joe Lombardo was also expected to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in Nevada on Friday, giving the GOP its first pick-up in the gubernatorial race this election cycle.
In a statement released ahead of the race call on Friday night, Sisolak said it “looks like we’re going to lose about a percentage point” and that he believes in “our electoral system, democracy and respect the will of the voters of Nevada”. He noted the struggles of the past four years – including the pandemic and inflation – and said he reached out to Lombardo to wish him well.
During the campaign, Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County — which includes Las Vegas — criticized Sisolak’s handling of crime, education and the coronavirus pandemic. He said he would be a “pro-life governor” but sought to play down the issue and said he would follow “the vote of the people” as Sisolak accused him of changing his position for political convenience.
“Our victory is a victory for all Nevadans who want our state back on track,” Lombardo said in a statement late Friday. “This is a win for small business owners, for parents, for students and for law enforcement.”
Lombardo’s victory marks the first GOP gubernatorial nomination in a year when many Democratic incumbents defied GOP hopes of a red wave, winning in tight races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas and Oregon, where an independent candidate split the Democratic vote.
Stanley-Becker reported from Arizona. Yvonne Wingett Sanchez in Arizona contributed to this report.