Democrats were projected to retain control of the Senate on Saturday, clinching a narrow majority as they showed strength in battleground races in a daunting midterm year that handed President Biden a major victory as he looks to his next two years in office.
Control of the House was still up in the air on Saturday, as vote counting continued days after an election that started with Democrats expected to sustain heavy losses, since midterm elections have historically favored the party out of power. But Democrats have held their ground and even made some gains in many key contests, leaving many Republicans unnerved. In winning back control of the Senate, they dashed GOP hopes of a full takeover on Capitol Hill.
That’s welcome news for Biden, who was staring down the possibility of humbling defeats as the election neared. Now, the Senate, which oversees the confirmation of executive branch personnel and federal judges, will stay in his party’s corner. A Senate majority will also give the president and his party more say over legislative debates on domestic and foreign spending and other major issues.
“I feel good, and I’m looking forward to the next couple years,” Biden told reporters. He called Cortez Masto and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to congratulate them from Cambodia, where he is attending a summit of Asian nations, according to the White House.
Schumer called the results a “vindication” for Democrats and their agenda, and said Republicans had turned off voters with extremism and “negativity,” including some candidates’ false insistence that the 2020 election had been stolen. “America showed that we believed in our democracy," he told reporters in New York, while praising the quality of Democratic incumbents.
Most national Republicans stayed silent on the projected result as of Saturday night, and the Laxalt campaign has not yet publicly acknowledged Cortez Masto’s projected win.
Still, a few Republicans began to express their discontent as they faced at least another another two years in the minority. “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), tweeted shortly after the race was called.
Shiree Verdone, a Republican fundraiser, said Saturday night that GOP donors and activists are distraught at the election’s outcome.
“We have to examine what went wrong. There needs to be some kind of study of what happened in this election.” said Verdone, who held a fundraiser for Laxalt and acknowledged that Democrats know how to get out the vote in Nevada with the “Reid machine,” named for the late Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who in October was predicting as head of the Senate GOP campaign arm that his party would hold 53 to 55 seats, had not yet made a statement as of late Saturday night.
Cortez Masto announced she would deliver a victory speech on Sunday.
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Democrat Cisco Aguilar was also projected to win Nevada’s secretary of state race, beating a Republican nominee, Jim Marchant, who sought oversight of Nevada’s elections while baselessly denying the results from 2020. Former president Donald Trump endorsed Marchant in the race.
Democrats also were projected to pick up a House seat in Washington state held by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who was ousted in a Republican primary after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
In the Nevada Senate race, Cortez Masto’s win was part of a perfect record so far by incumbent senators seeking reelection in the midterms, as voters tilted strongly against upending the established order in the chamber. It was part of a strong showing by Democrats in battleground areas where Republicans fell short after emphasizing rising prices and concerns about crime during an era of one-party control in Washington.
Republicans started the election needing to gain one seat to seize control of the Senate. Democrats flipped a seat in Pennsylvania and held on in several other states seen as vulnerable, running as protectors of abortion rights after the end of Roe v. Wade and casting GOP rivals as extremists. One such state was Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly (D) was projected to win Friday night over Republican challenger Blake Masters.
In Nevada, Laxalt sought to tie Cortez Masto to Biden while blaming inflation and crime on Democratic policies, pointing to a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Cortez Masto helped pass during the height of the pandemic.
Republicans predicted their economic message would be especially resonant in a working-class state with some of the highest inflation in the country. But both parties always expected the race to be decided by razor-thin margins, and Cortez Masto claimed a second term in a state the GOP long considered a top pickup opportunity.
Cortez Masto, who is the first Latina elected to the Senate, made abortion access central to her campaign, warning that her opponent could help pass a federal abortion ban even as Nevada had guaranteed access to the procedure by popular vote. She also touted Democrats’ efforts to bring down costs, including the price of prescription drugs.
Laxalt has said he would not support a national abortion ban, though he supports a referendum in the state to ban abortion after 13 weeks. During the general election, he spoke little about his role in fanning former president Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, as Democrats attacked him on the issue.
During a news conference earlier Saturday, Joe Gloria, the registrar in Clark County, was asked if any campaigns had expressed concerns about the counting process. “I don’t have anything to report there,” he said. Later, Gloria added that he has not heard “anything from any campaign” about allegations of fraud.
The Senate has been evenly divided beween the two parties during Biden’s presidency, with Vice President Harris empowered to cast tiebreaking votes. The fight for the majority was a focal point of the midterm campaign, with huge sums of cash flooding into key states. Inexperienced candidates elevated by Trump eased Democrats’ path in some important races, at times stumbling and giving Democrats more room to go on the attack.
In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) defeated celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, a first-time Republican candidate boosted by the former president. Oz faced scrutiny over his popular TV show, which promoted questionable products; his longtime New Jersey residency; and instances Democrats used to paint him as an out-of-touch candidate, including his reference to raw vegetables as “crudite.”
The Arizona race also featured a Trump-backed newcomer in Masters, whom Democrats branded as an extremist. They seized on comments he made about privatizing Social Security and his support for abortion restrictions, including a national 15-week ban.
Democrats held off other challenges, stymieing Republican attempts to advance into Colorado, Washington state and New Hampshire. Republicans nominated more moderate candidates in the first two states but in New Hampshire, the GOP nominee was Don Bolduc, a far-right contender who embraced much of Trump’s platform and had claimed falsely that Trump won the 2020 election.
Republicans kept control of open seats in North Carolina and Ohio and will be sending two new senators to the upper chamber from those states: Rep. Ted Budd and author J.D. Vance, respectively. In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) narrowly won reelection in a competitive contest.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) ran just slightly ahead of Republican nominee Herschel Walker, a former football player. But neither candidate met the 50 percent threshold required to avert a runoff. The two will face off again in a runoff next month. Both sides have been gearing up in the purple state.
In Alaska, vote tallying continues under a new ranked-choice system. Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a target of Trump, and Kelly Tshibaka, a challenger backed by the former president, were in competition in that race.
In total, Democrats were playing defense in the Senate in 14 states this midterm year — all of which were won by Biden in 2020. Republicans were playing defense in 21 states, including two where Biden won. One was Pennsylvania, so far the only flipped seat.
Schumer praised the quality of the Democratic incumbents, and said they won in part because Republicans nominated “flawed” candidates. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chair of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said in a statement that the victories represented a “resounding endorsement of Democrats’ Senate majority” and “a rejection of the extremism espoused by the GOP.”
The losses have stirred discontent among Republicans in the Senate, and at least six of them have pushed for next week’s leadership elections to be delayed in a challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership.
The Senate Leadership Fund, an outside group closely associated with McConnell (R-Ky.), spent more than $230 million this cycle backing Republicans in races across the country. Without directly criticizing Trump, McConnell lamented before the election that “candidate quality” issues made it harder for Republicans to flip the Senate than the House.
Since several Trump-backed Senate candidates have lost, Trump and his allies have attempted to turn the blame around on McConnell, criticizing him for not spending more in Arizona to back Masters and other decisions.
Late Saturday, some Republicans focused on Trump as they vented frustrations about the election. Lew Sanders, a local GOP official in Arizona’s Pinal County, said he’s heard from many Republicans concerned that Trump hurt their chances in the midterms with his endorsements.
While he echoed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, Sanders had plenty of criticism for the former president, arguing he bears responsibility for “some of the problems that come back to haunt us.”
Azi Paybarah contributed to this report.
The 2022 Midterm Elections
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, experts helped us game out what would happen if he wins again.
Key issue: Abortion rights advocates scored major victories in the first nationwide election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Here’s how abortion access fared on the ballot in nine states.