Cortez Masto defeats Laxalt, sealing Democratic control of Senate

Democrats will keep control of the U.S. Senate after Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — once considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the midterms — fended off a challenge from Republican Adam Laxalt after days of vote counting. 

The nation’s first Latina senator, Cortez Masto was targeted by national Republicans as their best chance to flip a seat. And because Democrats only control the 50-50 Senate because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking votes, Republicans only needed a net gain of one seat to reach their goal.

But with her seat secured, Democrats are guaranteed control of Congress’ upper chamber no matter the outcome of a Dec. 6 run-off in Georgia between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker,.

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  • Kelly wins Arizona: It’s still too early to call races for governor (between Republican Kari Lake and Democrat Katie Hobbs) but Democrat incumbent Mark Kelly was declared the winner in the Senate race against Republican Blake Masters.
  • House tilting red, but… A number of House races, including several in California, remain uncalled, as of Saturday morning. Analysts are projecting the GOP to capture the House with a narrower-than-expected margin but Democrats still are given an outside chance of retaining the chamber.

Here are the latest developments:

‘A good day for America’:Biden hails midterms even as key races, control of Congress remain undecided

Cortez Masto defeats Laxalt

Under a national spotlight Saturday, as vote-counting stretched into its fifth day in Nevada, voters handed Democrats the key to Senate power in the 118th Congress when they decided to send Catherine Cortez Masto back to Washington for a second term.

To try to retake Senate control, Donald Trump had sent in Adam Laxalt, who co-chaired the president’s 2020 reelection campaign in Nevada. But Laxalt fell short Saturday night of the votes he needed to oust Cortez Masto, after Clark County, home to 1.3 million active registered voters, released the results of its final outstanding mail ballots totaling about 23,000.

The new results pushed Cortez Masto into the lead statewide by about 5,000 votes, and not long after she pulled ahead of Laxalt, CNN and NBC called the race.

Saturday was the final day allowed by state law that county election officials could accept and tabulate mail ballots postmarked by Election Day.

— Rio Lacanlale

Key midterm ballot measures:Missouri legalizes weed, Kentucky rejects anti-abortion amendment

As Nevada count nears end, Senate control comes into focus

In Nevada, the race between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt is in its final stretch

A new voting law in the state says that Saturday is the last day that mail-in ballots can arrive and be counted, meaning the election’s outcome could be called soon. An estimated 23,000 ballots remain to be counted in the county, plus some 5,555 provisional ballots and 9,600 ballots being “cured,” according to Joe Gloria, the registrar in Nevada’s Clark County, which accounts for three-quarters of Nevada’s population.

Though Cortez Masto is a few hundred votes behind Laxalt, the race remains a toss-up due to Clark County’s heavily Democratic lean. If Cortez Masto wins the race, Democrats will retain control of the U.S. Senate, but if Laxalt wins, the upper chamber’s control will be decided by a December run-off race in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. 

– Associated Press, Ella Lee

In AZ Senate race, Republican Blake Masters says he’ll congratulate Kelly when ‘every legal vote’ is counted

Blake Masters, the Republican nominee in Arizona’s U.S. Senate race, said Saturday he would congratulate Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly once “every legal vote” has been counted.

“For my people who knocked doors in 115 degree heat, and for the million+ Arizonans who put their faith in me, we are going to make sure that every legal vote is counted,” Masters wrote on Twitter. “If, at the end, Senator Kelly has more of them than I do, then I will congratulate him on a hard-fought victory. But voters decide, not the media; let’s count the votes.” 

The Associated Press projected Kelly as the race’s winner Friday night. 

– Ella Lee

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, left, smiles as he stands on stage with Republican challenger Blake Masters, right, prior to a televised debate in Phoenix, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) ORG XMIT: AZRF115

Trump pushes back on blame for Republican underperformance

After Republicans’ expectations of a resounding ‘red wave’ were met with more of a ripple, party members began looking for a person to blame. Many have pointed the finger at former President Donald Trump.

But the former president has placed his blame everywhere else, taking shots at prominent GOP leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and resurfacing unfounded claims of election fraud on his social media platform, Truth Social. Trump has also started picking fights with newly reelected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has emerged as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. 

– Ella Lee

Key vote count update expected in Arizona governor’s race

Election staffers in Arizona’s two most populous counties planned to work through the weekend counting remaining ballots from Tuesday’s election, with a possibly pivotal update in the governor’s race expected Saturday evening.

The state’s gubernatorial election was still too close to call Friday, with just 31,000 votes separating Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from her opponent Kari Lake, the Republican nominee and former television news anchor.

Officials already counted over 1.1 million votes, but another 370,000 are left to tally.

– Stacey Barchenger, Arizona Republic

The race to lead the city of Los Angeles remains close, with just a couple thousand votes separating Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and Republican Rick Caruso. 

Caruso, a billionaire developer, previously held a lead of some 3,000 votes over Bass, who has been a U.S. congresswoman since 2011. But as of Friday, Bass led Caruso by about 4,300 votes.

-Ella Lee

Rep. Katie Porter narrowly leads in California U.S. House race

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Republican Scott Baugh are neck-and-neck in a competitive race to represent California’s 47th Congressional District, which includes the once Republican Orange County that has shifted blue over time. 

Porter, who is seeking a third term, holds a lead of more than 2 percentage points with about two-thirds of ballots counted.

– Ella Lee

Far-right candidates struggled in races

Far-right political candidates were overwhelmingly unsuccessful in midterm elections across the country.

Right-wing candidates like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Bo Hines of North Carolina lost, while other far-right candidates running for statewide offices in swing states like Arizona and Georgia either lost to Democrats, did not make it past the primary or are in races still too close to call. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a right-wing firebrand known for her inflammatory comments about Muslims and other groups, struggled in Republican districts. She is facing a razor-thin margin in a district that Cook Political Report predicted a Republican could win by a 7-point margin.  

“Any other Republican who was even vaguely mainstream conservative would’ve won that easily,” said Larry Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics who runs a forecasting model for election outcomes.

“It’s because after a while, even in deeply red territory, an extreme candidate like Boebert just rubs people the wrong way, and they just say, ‘Enough already. Enough. We’ll have a Democrat for two years.’”

– Erin Mansfield, Rachel Looker, Ella Lee

Trump, DeSantis 2024 rivalry is just beginning

After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cruised to a blockbuster reelection win this week, some supporters cheered for him to start planning another campaign: a 2024 Republican presidential bid against Donald Trump.

“Two more years! Two more years!” they chanted at a victory rally where DeSantis became the brightest star on a dim election night for Republicans. The GOP’s lackluster performance in an array of congressional races dented Trump’s aura of inevitability and created a bigger opening for a potential challenger to the former president, who is hinting he may announce a fresh presidential bid Tuesday.

Days after the midterms, Trump is playing defense and attacking Republicans who blame him for GOP losses and want the party to move past the volatile ex-president.

– David Jackson 

Colorado voters legalize psychedelic mushrooms for medicinal purposes

Coloradans interested in trying psychedelic mushrooms for medicinal purposes will soon be able to test them legally after voters said yes this week to legalizing the drug.

The psychedelics, often called magic mushrooms or shrooms, are usually sought after for their hallucinogenic effects. As of Friday afternoon, just more than 52% of the state’s votes were cast in favor of Proposition 122 (National Medicine Health Act of 2022).

The vote legalizes regulated access to natural medicine for those 21 and up. And according to the proposition, natural medicine includes plants or fungi that impact an individual’s mental health.

– Saleen Martin

Candidates in tight races prepare for recounts

With only hundreds of votes separating candidates in consequential races, campaigns are preparing for ballot recounts to confirm the winners of those races. 

In Nevada, where Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is trailing Republican challenger Adam Laxalt by 0.1%, Laxalt’s campaign is reportedly preparing to ask for a recount while also “bracing for a loss,” the Daily Mail exclusively reported. Laxalt denied the report on Twitter Friday night, calling it “totally and completely false.”

The race between incumbent Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Democrat Adam Frisch is similarly narrow, with just over a thousand votes separating Boebert and her challenger to represent Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Frisch wrote on Twitter Friday evening that their race is “likely heading to a recount” as absentee ballots continue to come in. 

– Ella Lee

Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly reelected in Arizona

Mark Kelly defeated Republican Blake Masters in Arizona’s U.S. Senate race after another key batch of ballots Friday night left the challenger still far apart in a contest that boosts Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the chamber.

The Associated Press called the race, along with other major media outlets moments after Maricopa County posted unofficial numbers that showed Kelly, D-Ariz., widened his lead by another 8,000 votes.

Kelly, who cast himself as an independent-minded senator throughout the campaign, called the result the product of a cooperative spirit.

“Thank you to the people of Arizona for re-electing me to the United States Senate. From day one, this campaign has been about the many Arizonans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — who believe in working together to tackle the significant challenges we face,” he said in a written statement.

– Ronald J. Hansen

More:Democrat Mark Kelly wins reelection in Arizona Senate race, beating Republican Blake Masters

Nevada nail-biter: 798 votes separate Laxalt and Cortez Masto

Late Friday afternoon, Nevada’s Clark County released the results of more than 27,000 ballots, shrinking Republican Adam Laxalt’s statewide lead over incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto to just 798 votes — and at least 23,000 mail ballots were yet to be counted in Clark.

If Cortez Masto wins, the  Democrats retain control of the Senate regardless of what happens in a Dec. 6 Georgia Senate runoff between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker.

Cortez Masto faces a tough challenge from Laxalt, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump.

Early on in the election cycle, national Republicans had identified Cortez Masto’s seat as their best flip opportunity. And the contest, widely considered a toss-up, is expected to remain close until the end.

– Rio Lacanlale, Reno Gazette Journal

Republicans place blame on Trump for subpar election results

After Republicans’ expectations of a resounding red wave crashed down, many in the party are pointing the finger at former President Donald Trump. 

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said in an interview on SiriusXM that Trump announcing a presidential run before the holidays is a “terrible idea” that could “muck up” Georgia Republican Herschel Walker’s chances at winning his U.S. Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. 

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears broke with the former president Thursday, saying she “just couldn’t” support him in another presidential bid. “The voters have spoken, and they’ve said that they want a different leader,” she said. “And a true leader understands when they have become a liability.” 

Among the particularly vocal have been politicians in Pennsylvania, a swing state where Democrats John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro prevailed over Trump-backed Republican challengers Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano for the U.S. Senate and state governorship, respectively. Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said there was a “high correlation between MAGA candidates and big losses” and predicted that Trump’s influence would “wane” over time. Former Rep. Lou Barletta, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, said Trump “interfered with the primary here when there was no reason for it.”

– Ella Lee

Waiting on a milestone: LGBTQ candidates trailing by razor-thin margins in too-close-to-call races  

A bevy of House races are still too close to call in California (16) and Oregon (2).

Of particular interest: the congressional races of Democrats Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon and Will Rollins in California. Both are trailing by small margins.

They are also the last openly LGBTQ federal candidates still to be decided, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund political action committee.

Early Wednesday, the group said 340 out LGBTQ candidates had won elections all the way up and down the ballot, from races for school boards to the U.S. Senate.

As of Friday morning, that number was 436, shattering past records. LGBTQ Victory Fund spokesman Albert Fujii told USA TODAY. The group can chalk up two more if McLeod-Skinner and Rollins pull off victories.

At GLAAD, a New York-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, President Sarah Kate Ellis, told USA TODAY that “equality was on the ballot” with a litany of hard-right conservative candidates pushing for the elimination of gender studies in schools and opposing equality measures on the state and federal level. But the wins this week, she said, are “pretty phenomenal.”

McLeod-Skinner trounced seven-term incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader in Oregon’s Democratic primary in May and faced Republican nominee Lori Chavez-DeRemer Tuesday. Chavez-DeRemer was roughly 7,000 votes ahead Friday morning, but only 85% of votes had been counted.

In California, Rollins is within 1,500 votes of Republican incumbent Rep. Ken Calvert, but just over half the ballots had been counted.

– Donovan Slack

Contributing: Associated Press Cortez Masto defeats Laxalt, sealing Democratic control of Senate

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