Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, assured her party would retain control of the Senate after defeating Republican Adam Laxalt, the state’s former attorney general.
The race was announced Saturday by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, control of the U.S. House of Representatives remains too close to call, underscoring how Democrats continue to exceed expectations and deny GOP hopes of a sizable majority.
Cheering Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said the results were “a victory and a vindication” for his party, speaking at a Saturday night press conference hastily summoned to New York. He credited the quality of the Democratic candidates as well as the party’s legislative program and an electorate willing to reject “the antidemocratic and extremist Republicans of MAGA”.
“Compare our candidates with some of the people they ran against. Our strong candidates beat very flawed challengers who had no faith in democracy, no loyalty to truth or honor, and even when the polls looked dim, our candidates never gave up and never lost the faith,” Schumer said. “While MAGA Republicans were stoking fear and division, Democrats were talking about how we solved the issues that matter to people.”
President Biden, with his party holding the Senate, is preserving his ability to confirm judicial nominees and Cabinet secretaries.
The president received news of the Democrats’ success in the Senate while in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
“I feel good and I’m looking forward to the next two years,” he said. He expressed hope that his party would also claim the House, but acknowledged “this is a stretch where everything has to fall in our path”.
Ronald Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, celebrated on Twitter by typing the number of seats Democrats now hold — 50 — and 14 exclamation points.
Prominent Republicans greeted the news with silence Saturday night — at least publicly. Neither Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell nor Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who leads the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, has released a comment.
Keeping the Senate was seen as a slightly easier task for Democrats than retaining control of the House. National dynamics — such as presidential approval ratings and economic concerns — exert less force on statewide races; in 2018, for example, Republicans won two Senate seats even as Democrats won 40 seats to take control of the House.
Yet with high inflation and a disgruntled electorate, the battle for control of the Senate has been a blow for much of the cycle. Democrats were spurred by mainstream fundraising and voter outrage after the Supreme Court struck down decades-old federal protections for abortion access — a backlash that Schumer said was crucial to party victories.
“Because the American people turned out to elect Democrats to the Senate, there is now a firewall against the threat of a nationwide abortion ban that so many Republicans have been talking about,” Schumer said. .
Democrats also benefited from GOP opponents who were popular with Trump supporters but less so with the general electorate.
Jessica Taylor, Senate campaign analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, said she never imagined at the start of the cycle that Democrats might find themselves on the verge of a Senate seat.
“When we look at history and the political climate and current economic indicators, it’s shocking that the Democrats may not have lost a single incumbent,” Taylor said.
Democrats will get a chance to build on their majority next month in Georgia, when Sen. Raphael Warnock takes on GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Warnock narrowly edged Walker in Tuesday’s general election. But he failed to top 50% of the vote, forcing a runoff under state law.
Walker ran 5 percentage points behind Gov. Brian Kemp, another Republican who made a successful re-election bid – pointing to a significant number of voters who backed the incumbent governor but not Walker.
Now that Senate control has been determined, it may be difficult for Walker to rally those voters to run, Taylor said.
“It’s a participatory game, and the Republicans failed last time because [then-President] Trump was trying to overturn the election results,” Taylor said, pointing to the GOP’s loss of two Senate ballots in Georgia following the 2020 election.
In Nevada, the race between Laxalt and Cortez Masto — seen as the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrat heading into Tuesday’s midterm elections — has narrowed to the slimmest of margins. The contest was so tight in part because voters in the state are tightly divided between the two major parties. Democrats were less than 4 percentage points ahead of Republicans as of November 1.
On paper, Nevada looks like a united blue state. All but one of its statewide offices are held by Democrats; the party has majorities in both state legislative chambers and in its congressional delegation. Democratic presidential candidates have won the state since 2008, when Barack Obama won with a double-digit victory.
But the Democrats’ winning streak in Nevada belies the landslide nature of many of their victories. Propelled by the notorious “Reid machine” – the political participation operation set up by the late Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, the state’s longest-serving senator – Nevada has tilted only narrowly in the direction of the party in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Cortez Masto won his first term in 2016 by less than 3 percentage points.
Democrats have relied on working-class voters of color, especially union members, to bolster their margins in a close election. But the party’s struggles to win over those without a college degree and a rightward drift among Latino voters have made Nevada particularly difficult ground.
The state’s workforce is transient, and many voters’ livelihoods depend on visitors eating, drinking, gambling and otherwise frolicking on and around the Las Vegas Strip — a tourism industry that has no not yet fully rebounded from being reduced by the pandemic. The state’s unemployment rate and gasoline prices remain among the highest in the country.
“We knew this was going to be a tough campaign,” Cortez Masto said in a victory speech on Sunday. “But like all of you, I’m a Nevadan and I know what it takes to deliver for my own state. So when the national pundits said I couldn’t win, I knew Nevada would prove them wrong.
Cortez Masto, 58, a former state attorney general, is the daughter of a four-term Clark County commissioner. She made history in 2016 as the first Latina elected to the Senate.
Laxalt, 44, is a former state attorney general who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018. The grandson of a Nevada governor and senator who was a confidant of President Reagan, Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 campaign in the state. Trump campaigned with him on November 5.
“This is another place where we’ve seen Trump have more impact,” Taylor said, noting that Laxalt was part of the legal team that tried to help the former president overturn the election results of 2020.
Trump is also set to loom over the upcoming runoff, teasing a possible announcement for a 2024 presidential election next week.
Election denial was unpopular with Nevada voters; Jim Marchant, the GOP secretary of state candidate who was among the most vocal purveyors of campaign conspiracies, lost to Democrat Cisco Aguilar, the AP reported Saturday night.
But Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo successfully ousted Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak.
While Lombardo has been endorsed by Trump and appeared with him at rallies, he has also attempted to distance himself from the former president at times, describing him as a ‘solid president’ in a debate after he refused to label Trump of “great”.
Lombardo’s position as sheriff of Clark County, the state’s population center, also allowed him to campaign more on crime, a theme Republican candidates across the country have pushed.
Times writers Nolan D. McCaskill in Washington and Hannah Fry in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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