Democrats keep Senate majority as Republicans’ push falters in Nevada

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada gave Democrats the 50 seats they needed to keep control of the Senate.

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U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., making a campaign speech last weekend in Henderson, Nev. Her victory in a hotly contested race victory in Nevada gave Democrats the 50 seats they needed to keep control of the U.S. Senate. 

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., making a campaign speech last weekend in Henderson, Nev. Her victory in a hotly contested race victory in Nevada gave Democrats the 50 seats they needed to keep control of the U.S. Senate.

Steve Marcus / Las Vegas Sun via AP

WASHINGTON — Democrats have kept control of the Senate.

On Saturday, it became clear that the party had repelled Republican efforts to retake the chamber, making it harder for Republicans to thwart President Joe Biden’s agenda. 

The fate of the House was still uncertain as the Republican Party struggled to pull together a slim majority.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada gave Democrats the 50 seats they needed to keep the Senate. 

Her win reflects the strength of Democrats across the U.S. this election year. Seeking reelection in an economically challenged state that has some of the highest gas prices in the nation, Cortez Masto was considered the Senate’s most vulnerable member.

“We got a lot done, and we’ll do a lot more for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday night. “The American people rejected — soundly rejected — the anti-democratic, authoritarian, nasty and divisive direction the MAGA Republicans wanted to take our country.”

With the results in Nevada now decided, Georgia is the only state where both parties are still competing for a Senate seat. Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock will face Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Alaska’s Senate race has advanced to so-called ranked-choice voting, a system allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference, though the seat will remain in Republican hands.

What Democrats’ Senate control means

Democratic control of the Senate ensures a smoother process for Biden’s Cabinet appointments and judicial picks, including those for potential Supreme Court openings. The party also will maintain control over committees and have the power to conduct investigations or oversight of the Biden administration and will be able to reject legislation sent over by the House if the Republican Party wins that chamber.

Biden, who was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said of the election results: “I feel good. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.”

The president said winning a 51st seat from the Georgia runoff would be important, allowing Democrats to boost their standing on Senate committees: “The bigger the number, the better.”

If Democrats manage to pull off a win in the House, it would mean full control of Congress for Democrats — and another chance to advance Biden priorities, which he has said include codifying abortion rights. The party still lacks the 60 votes in the Senate needed to move many kinds of major legislative changes.

Biden said he’s still hopeful that Democrats can hold the House, but that “it’s a stretch. Everything has to fall our way.”

The Senate fight had hinged on a handful of deeply contested seats. Both parties spent tens of millions of dollars in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, the top election battlegrounds, where Democrats had hoped that Republicans’ decision to nominate untested candidates — many backed by former President Donald Trump — would help them.

Democrats scored a big win in Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was endorsed by Trump, to pick up a seat currently held by a Republican.

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection by about 5 percentage points.

A closely divided swing state, Nevada is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, a working-class state whose residents have been especially hard-hit by inflation and other economic turmoil. About three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about half called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters.

Election deniers lose

In another race in Nevada, Democrat Cisco Aguilar was elected as Nevada’s secretary of state, winning the elections post over Republican 2020 election denier Jim Marchant, who pushed to scrap voting machines and claimed all Nevada winners since 2006 have been “installed by the deep-state cabal.”

Marchant’s loss marked another defeat for election conspiracy theorists who sought to gain control of elections in competitive states.

Marchant had organized a coalition of 17 such Republican candidates — and all but two lost: Diego Morales, who was elected secretary of state in Indiana, and Kari Lake, whose contest for Arizona governor remains too close to call.

Marchant, Mark Finchem — an Arizona state lawmaker who attended the Jan. 6 protests — and Michigan’s Kristina Karamo were the most prominent secretary of state candidates because they sought the office that oversees voting in three of the six swing states that decided the winner of the 2020 presidential elections. Their bids drew millions of dollars in outside spending from Democrats and their allies on ads warning voters about them. In contrast, the Republican Party’s apparatus that normally backs secretaries of states didn’t support any election conspiracy theorists, and they raised paltry sums of money.

“Their candidates showed voters who they were, and the voters rejected them,” said Ellen Kurz, a Democratic strategist whose group iVote spent $15 million against the conspiracy theorists. “Voters saved democracy.”

Republicans focused on economy

Heading into the midterm election, Republicans nationwide focused relentlessly on the economy, a top concern for many voters amid stubborn inflation and high gas and food prices.

The Republican Party also hit Democrats on crime, a message that sometimes overstated the threat but nonetheless tapped into anxiety, particularly among the suburban voters who turned away from the party in 2018 and 2020.

And Republicans highlighted illegal border crossings, accusing Biden and other Democrats of failing to protect the country.

How Democrats answered

But Democrats were buoyed by voters who are angry about the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.

They also portrayed Republicans as too extreme and a threat to democracy, after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s false claims — repeated by many Republican candidates this election season — that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Schumer said Democratic candidates’ promises to defend abortion rights resonated with voters.

“We knew that the negativity, the nastiness, the condoning of Donald Trump’s big lie — and saying that the elections were rigged when there’s no proof of that at all — would hurt Republicans, not help them,” Schumer said. “But too many of them and their candidates fell into those traps.”

Referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Schumer said voters had rejected “extremist MAGA Republicans.”

Nationally, VoteCast showed that 7 in 10 voters said the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade was an important factor in their midterm decisions. It also showed the reversal was broadly unpopular. And roughly 6 in 10 said they favor a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Half of voters said inflation factored significantly in their vote, and 44% said the future of democracy was their primary consideration.

Beyond Congress, Democrats won key governors’ races in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — battlegrounds critical to Biden’s 2020 win over Trump. Republicans, though, held governors’ mansions in Florida, Texas and Georgia — another battleground state Biden narrowly won two years ago.

Though the midterms failed to deliver Republican romps, Trump remains a major factor in the national party and plans to announce his a third run for the presidency Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida — setting up a potential rematch for the White House with Biden.

“I think the Republican Party is going to have to ... decide who they are,” Biden said.

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