Kelly wins in Arizona, pushing Democrats closer to keeping Senate

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Sen. Mark Kelly (D) was projected to win re-election in Arizona on Friday against Republican Blake Masters, boosting Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the Senate for two more years.

The victory gives Democrats a 49th Senate seat, just short of the 50 they need to control the chamber, where Vice President Harris has the power to break ties. Republicans, who also picked up 49 seats, must now flip seats in both Nevada and Georgia and seize control of the House.

While the race in Georgia won’t be settled until a runoff in December, Democrats are cautiously optimistic they can quickly take the majority as more mail-in ballots count in Nevada’s tight race.

Democratic control of the Senate will give Biden some leverage for his agenda on Capitol Hill, which also remained tense late Friday. Republican control of the Senate will further complicate Biden’s agenda for the next two years, positioning the GOP to slow or block Biden’s confirmation of cabinet officials and judges.

Republicans entered the midterm elections needing to pick up just one seat to seize control of the evenly divided upper house of Congress this year. Democrats narrowed their path to victory on election night as they flipped a crucial Senate seat in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) defeated renowned physician Mehmet Oz, another first-time Republican candidate picked up in the primaries by former President Donald Trump. .

The Arizona race is one of the hottest races of the year. Kelly, a former astronaut, Masters, venture capitalist, after an expensive race, the Democrat came across as a moderate working across the aisle. Some Republicans were dimmed about their chances in the purple state this fall as Democrats overtook them and independents held significant leads. But the polls showed that the race would be tight until the final toss.

Kelly led by nearly six percentage points with more than 80 percent of the votes counted late Friday.

Arizona once seemed ripe for a GOP pickup, especially with high inflation and the state’s backlash to the Biden administration’s border policies. Masters tried to cast Kelly as a rubber stamp for Biden. But like most other races this year, Democrats prevailed despite a grim political environment that portrayed their opponent as extremist and angered the eventual tough new abortion bans. Roe v. Wade.

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Masters won the nomination with Trump’s endorsement and $15 million in support from friend and mentor tech billionaire 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 raised some concerns within the GOP that their candidates in critical races were underperforming.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), began dropping out of the race weeks after the primary — but other GOP groups eventually helped Masters compete on the airwaves with Kelly, one of the Senate’s top fundraisers. .

Masters criticized McConnell during the primary and renewed that criticism this week, calling McConnell and the Republican establishment “incompetent” on Fox News.

“If he chose to spend the money in Arizona, this race would be over,” Masters said. “We are now celebrating a Senate majority.”

Masters gave Democrats an opening during a summer debate where he considered privatizing Social Security. Democrats also spent heavily to highlight his evolving views on abortion, as he rejected calls for a “federal personhood law” in the general election and endorsed a proposed national ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Kelly’s campaign has already produced and tested negative ads against Masters ahead of the Aug. 3 primary, aides for Kelly said, and found the strongest ads using Masters’ own language, particularly on abortion and Social Security. In August, when Masters had limited resources and few TV bookings with Republican groups backing him, Kelly’s campaign used the vacuum to dramatically increase its TV budget.

Internally, the strategy was called “rising”—a bet that it was worth spending resources early because it would help define the master for general election voters.

In Kelly campaign polls conducted between late July and early September, unfavorable ratings for Masters rose from 35 percent to 48 percent, said aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe personal strategy decisions. Masters himself recognized the Democratic strategy, saying in an Aug. 19 radio interview: “They’re trying to strip me, you know, they’re trying to kill the baby in the cradle here.”

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Meanwhile, Kelly ads aimed to bolster his brand as an independent-minded Democrat and sought to distance himself from Biden on the border issue. His first ad addressed economic hardship caused by inflation, telling the story of his upbringing as the son of two police officers.

“From day one, this campaign has been one that many Arizonans — Democrats, independents and Republicans — believe in working together to address the significant challenges we face,” Kelly said in a statement Friday after calling the race.

Asked whether he would accept Masters’ business Friday night, he would not comment.

Masters’ campaign on Thursday did not allege a fundraising appeal of impropriety, but argued that “some of the issues we’re seeing in this election are troubling.” It added, “We expect a competitive path and legal battles to come.”

Appearing on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show Friday night, Masters went further, alleging without evidence that Maricopa County, home to more than half of Arizona’s voters, had “mixed” ballots on two occasions. A campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for evidence underlying those claims, and a state spokesman did not immediately respond.

In Georgia, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) ran slightly ahead of Republican candidate Herschel Walker, a former football player. But none of the candidates met the 50 percent threshold needed to prevent a spillover.

Also in Arizona, Democrat Adrian Fontes was projected to win the race for secretary of state, defeating Republican Mark Finchem, a far-right state lawmaker who tried to oversee Arizona’s elections by pushing baselessly to nullify the results starting in 2020.

Finchem was one of several GOP nominees for secretary of state who campaigned on Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. If elected, he would serve as the chief electoral officer in a battleground state in 2024. The Secretary of State certifies the statewide results.

“We know that Republicans and independents are interested in the truth,” Fontes said in an interview after his race was called. “We know they are not interested in lies. It says that at least in this republic, democracy will survive.”

In Nevada, where votes are still being counted, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) narrowly trailed GOP candidate Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, on Friday. But Democrats see encouraging signs that mail-in ballots from urban areas are catching up to her.

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While Republicans have long sought to retake the House, a goal they have yet to win, they face a more uncertain battle over the Senate. In Tuesday’s election, Republicans held on to competitive seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, while Democratic incumbents won in Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington state.

The GOP needs just five seats for a majority in the House and has expressed confidence that they will win there. But their gains so far have been dwarfed by a red tide, giving way to narrow majorities that require more unified support from an often divisive caucus for leadership to implement their agenda.

Republican Joe Lombardo was projected to unseat Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday, handing the GOP their first pickup in a gubernatorial race this election cycle.

In a statement released before the race was tipped Friday night, Sisolak said “we will fall within a percentage point or less to win” and that he believes in “respecting our election system, democracy and the will of Nevada voters.” Noting the struggles of the past four years — including the pandemic and inflation — he said he reached out to Lombardo to wish him success.

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 tried to play down the issue and said he would follow the “people’s vote” as Sisolak accused him of changing positions for political convenience.

“Our victory is a victory for all Nevadans who want to get our state back on track,” Lombardo said in a statement Friday night. “It’s a win for small business owners, parents, students and law enforcement.”

Lombardo’s win marks the GOP’s first gubernatorial win in a year when many Democratic incumbents dashed GOP hopes for a red wave in tight races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas and Oregon, where an independent candidate split the Democratic vote.

Stanley-Becker reported from Arizona. Yvonne Winget Sanchez in Arizona contributed to this report.

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