Competitions in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia are key to Senate majority

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Pending ballots in two states and a runoff in a third have left Senate control up in the air, with Arizona and Nevada racing to count Thursday and rival candidates in Georgia gearing up for another four weeks of campaigning.

Democrats have been cautiously optimistic that Sen. Mark Kelly’s lead would hold in Arizona, and in Nevada, where Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto lags behind, they believe mail-in ballots from urban areas will help catch them. Some Republicans privately agreed their candidates could lose, but others in the GOP expressed confidence that Blake Masters would come through in Arizona and Adam Laxalt would stay ahead in Nevada.

Democratic incumbents must win at least two of the three states to remain in power. Even if Republicans were to eventually become the majority in the House of Representatives, continued Democratic control of the Senate would preserve President Biden’s ability to confirm his judge nominees and administrative appointments.

Officials in neither Arizona nor Nevada expect to complete the count before the weekend. Meanwhile, money was pouring into Georgia for a Dec. 6 runoff race that could determine the Senate majority. Neither Democratic Senator Raphael G. Warnock nor Republican Herschel Walker received more than 50 percent of the votes needed for an overall victory.

As of Thursday evening, the Arizona State Department estimated that around 570,000 ballots remained to be counted statewide. Officials in Maricopa County — where more than 300,000 votes were yet to be counted — said a full count could take a few more days. In Nevada, more than 50,000 ballots have yet to be counted, with more arriving in the mail every day — they may still arrive Saturday — and over 7,000 ballots need to be healed.

That the Arizona and Nevada races have yet to be called isn’t surprising — the narrow margins at many competitions mean it takes longer to predict a winner and they have a lot of absentee ballots to process.

In Maricopa County, Arizona’s biggest battlefield, about 290,000 early ballots were cast on Election Day — about 100,000 more than in 2020, according to Maricopa County clerk Stephen Richer (R).

Both Democrats and Republicans in the state eagerly awaited news from election officials, while strategists watched how a surge in voting on Election Day would alter the numbers in the race. Kelly leads Masters by nearly six percentage points with about three-quarters of the ballots counted.

Both parties expect mail-in ballots cast on Election Day to tighten the race, but it’s not clear exactly how they’ll break. So far, Republicans have fared better with Election Day votes than with mail-in votes, reflecting growing distrust in Arizona’s established mail-in voting system, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the process was fraudulent.

“We remain confident in our ability to win this race and are grateful that Arizona election officials are working around the clock to count the outstanding ballots statewide,” said Emma Brown, Kelly’s campaign manager.

Masters’ campaign has expressed confidence in his ability to close the gap on Kelly, but some national strategists from both parties are skeptical based on the margins seen so far and believe Kelly will win.

The breakdown of ballots cast on Election Day “will either keep Blake’s hope alive or allow Kelly to breathe easy,” said Arizona GOP strategist Barrett Marson.

Masters hinted on Tuesday that something disgraceful was going on but went silent on social media as Kelly gained an advantage over him through incomplete results. A fundraising appeal from Masters’ campaign on Thursday did not allege impropriety, but argued that “some of the issues we’ve seen during this election are troubling.” It added: “We anticipate a contentious way forward and litigation to come.”

Not only is Masters behind Kelly, he’s also a few points behind Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, who appears to have a better chance of winning after all the votes have been tallied. A Libertarian candidate who endorsed Masters late in the race has garnered 2 percent of the Senate vote.

In Nevada, national Republicans are more optimistic with a smaller number of ballots yet to be tallied, with Laxalt leading by about 16,000 votes as of Thursday afternoon. Democrats believe the remaining mail-in ballots will be in Cortez Masto’s favor.

Republican strategists hoped some of those pending mail-in ballots would prove more favorable to them, betting that GOP voters’ distrust of the mail-in ballot system, like Arizona’s, will improve their margins with Election Day drop-offs. However, Democrats are noting that the remaining votes include drop-box ballots — a method some Republicans are suspicious of.

Recent batches of the remaining absentee ballot have shown Cortez Masto gaining the margins she needs to overtake Laxalt, and some GOP strategists privately said Thursday that Laxalt may struggle to maintain his lead.

Laxalt disagrees. “We expected the remaining mail universe to fall well below the percentage [Cortez Masto] gotta catch us,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “No status change.”

Also on Thursday, Trump attempted to cast doubt on the counting process in both states with unfounded claims.

“Clark County, Nevada has a corrupt electoral system (be careful Adam!) as does many places in our soon to be Third World country. Arizona even said “by the end of the week!” – They want more time to cheat! Kari Lake MUST win!” Trump posted on TruthSocial.

Clark County Voter Registry Joe Gloria Thursday denied allegations of corruption in the county’s election process.

“Obviously, two years later, he’s misinformed about the law and our election process,” Gloria said. “We couldn’t go any faster now, even if we wanted to. We work as hard as we can.”

Outside the voting center on the northern edge of Las Vegas, all was quiet on Thursday as more than 200 workers sorted and counted ballots behind closed doors and under police surveillance. So far, few seem interested in following Trump’s lead and questioning the results, and there have been no protests outside the counting facility like there were two years ago. Even Jim Marchant, a candidate for secretary of state and a prominent 2020 national election denier, has not interfered in the Clark County process while the nation awaits Nevada results. This race is also too early to announce.

Michael J. McDonald, leader of the Nevada Republican Party, said in an interview, “We don’t want to appear like we’re throwing a fit just because we lost, but we know there’s a lot of fraud and mishandling of votes here.” When asked about evidence of fraud, McDonald said he’d only heard rumors and wasn’t ready to release a detailed allegation just yet.

In Georgia, both Republicans and Democrats are preparing for a costly runoff while their donor and activist bases are depleted by a grueling midterm cycle. A Republican strategist said Trump’s announcement of his presidential bid ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff was unhelpful because it would detract from a message they hope will continue to focus on inflation, border security and crime.

After a hard-fought campaign, Warnock and his Republican challenger, Walker, jumped right back into campaign mode.

Warnock made comments Thursday in front of a mural in downtown Atlanta in honor of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and joked to supporters that he warned them they might spend Thanksgiving together. Warnock, who won a runoff less than two years ago to become Georgia’s first black senator, was greeted by a large crowd of supporters holding signs that read “Georgia One More Time.”

“Well, we all knew this election was going to be close – but I’ve done it before. We’ve done this before. We know how to win a runoff,” Warnock said as fans cheered him on. “Well, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

“They’ll throw us every dollar they can. Every lie, every attack,” added the Georgia Democrat. “But I think we have something better: we have the truth. We have hope for the future.”

National leaders and surrogates from both sides of the aisle are expected to descend on Georgia over the next four weeks. Ahead of Tuesday’s election, however, it was national Republicans who flocked to the battleground state to rally around the former soccer star, whose campaign has been rocked by allegations of domestic violence, that he did not support some of his illegitimate children and that he has two exes -Girlfriends paid for abortions.

Walker was scheduled to launch an “Evict Warnock” bus tour Thursday night and host an event with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in Canton, Ga., a small town north of Atlanta. Walker’s pre-election bus tour on Tuesday was called the “Unite Georgia” bus tour.

Democratic and Republican groups, meanwhile, have prepared to pump millions into the race.

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee announced Thursday that it would spend $7 million on field operations in the Georgia Senate runoff. The money will fund direct voter contact programs, namely door-to-door advertising, the DSCC said.

The Georgians will not be spared the campaign advertising either. The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday reserved $234,000 for television advertising, which marks the first spend of the runoff, according to AdImpact, which tracks spending on television and digital advertising.

Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report from Arizona. Itkowitz, Knowles and Goodwin reported from Washington, Rodriguez from Georgia and Klemko from Nevada.