2022 midterms

Arizona and Nevada Could Make or Break a Democratic Senate

Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

As results continue to trickle in from Tuesday’s midterms, control of the Senate remains up for grabs. But based on the results so far, Democrats have reason to feel cautiously optimistic about retaining the upper chamber.

To hold on to their current 50-50 majority (with Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking any ties over the last two years), the party needed to win three of four toss-up races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona. And as of Wednesday afternoon, they have a pretty decent chance of doing so.

In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman beat Dr. Oz in a surprisingly convincing fashion, flipping the seat held by outgoing Republican Pat Toomey. After all is said and done, the seat may end up as the only one to switch parties on the entire electoral map. In Georgia, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock is slightly outpacing Republican Herschel Walker, 49.4 percent to 48.5 percent, with the final result headed to a runoff next month that could decide Senate control. But if Democrats can hang on in both Arizona and Nevada, Democrats can afford to lose the runoff while retaining Senate control.

Of the two, Arizona is looking a bit more solid for Democrats. Senator Mark Kelly holds a 4.8-point lead but with only 68 percent of votes reported. The New York Times projects his advantage will eventually dwindle to 2.8 points, based largely on the ballots yet to be counted in Maricopa County, which would come close to matching preelection polling averages. (The polling also accurately depicted Kelly running ahead of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs, who is locked in a razor-thin race with the frightening Kari Lake.)

While Kelly may have an advantage over Republican Blake Masters, the Times’s Nate Cohn notes that it may be more tenuous than it looks:

Most of the remaining vote is the mail ballots that were returned to the state near the election, including on Election Day, along with provisional ballots.

These days, mail and provisional ballots are typically good for Democrats. But this is not a normal case. A large majority of voters cast ballots by mail in Arizona, so the mail ballots are not nearly as favorable toward Democrats. Instead, a strange pattern has emerged in recent years: Democrats mail in their ballots well ahead of the election, leaving Republicans to turn in their ballots near the election or simply prefer to vote in person. In 2020, Donald J. Trump won the ballots counted after Election Day by a wide margin here, turning a four-point lead for Mr. Biden at this hour in 2020 into a race won by less than a point.

There should be further clarity as more of the votes are reported on Wednesday evening. But for now, it is much too early to project a winner, and networks may be particularly cautious about calling the state with memories of 2020 still fresh.

Nevada is even fuzzier. Catherine Cortez Masto, viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the Senate going into Tuesday, is trailing her opponent, Adam Laxalt, by 2.7 points, or 23,000 votes. But a huge question mark looms over the numbers: How many mail-in ballots, which skew heavily Democratic in the state, have yet to be counted? As Nevada election guru Jon Ralston writes, that number will determine her chances of making a comeback. Democratic turnout was low during in-person voting on Tuesday, which may indicate a large store of unprocessed mail ballots, including from drop boxes that key Nevada unions advised their members to use. Ralston estimates that if 70,000 or more ballots are outstanding and Democrats win them by a huge majority, Cortez Masto “has a shot.” The higher the number, the better chance she has. Given all that, Cortez Masto may hold a slight edge.

Meanwhile, Senate races that had been classified as less competitive all went the way they were expected to, though with some surprising margins amid a stunningly good night for Democrats overall. Dems had been concerned about Maggie Hassan’s seat in New Hampshire after some polls indicated a close race, but she ended up prevailing by about ten points. Incumbent Patty Murray easily defeated her challenger after some rumblings that her deep-blue seat could be competitive. On the Republican side, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson eked by Mandela Barnes in a race that ended up being far closer than Pennsylvania, to the surprise of many. And a spirited effort from Democrat Tim Ryan could not defy the laws of partisanship in solidly red Ohio, where Republican J.D. Vance did his mamaw proud and won by six points.

So now it’s all down to Nevada, Arizona, and possibly — to the consternation of the Atlanta metro TV market — Georgia. We’ll know more soon.

Arizona and Nevada Could Make or Break a Democratic Senate