All eyes in the political world were trained on Friday on Arizona and Nevada, where hundreds of thousands of uncounted votes held the key to control of the U.S. Senate three days after Americans cast their final ballots in midterm elections.
Either Democrats or Republicans can capture a Senate majority by sweeping the contests in both states. A split, however, would transform a Dec. 6 runoff Senate election in Georgia into a proxy battle for the chamber, which among other powers holds sway over President Joe Biden’s judicial appointments.
Meanwhile, Republicans were slowly inching closer to wresting control of the House of Representatives from Biden’s Democrats, which would effectively give them veto power over his legislative agenda and allow them to launch a bevy of investigations into his administration.
Republicans had secured at least 211 of the 218 House seats they need for a majority, Edison Research projected late on Thursday, while Democrats had won 197. That left 27 races yet to be determined, including a number of close contests.
The Republican House leader, Kevin McCarthy, has already announced his intention to run for speaker if Republicans take over, an outcome he described as inevitable on Wednesday.
Biden told reporters on Thursday he and McCarthy had spoken but said he had not yet abandoned hope that Democrats could still prevail in the House, despite the tough odds.
“It’s still alive,” he said of their chances.
The outcome of the Arizona and Nevada Senate races, where Democratic incumbents were trying to fend off Republican challengers, may not be known for days yet. Officials in both states have said it could take until next week to finish tallying uncounted mail ballots.
(Live election results from around the country are here)
Tuesday’s results fell far short of the sweeping “red wave” that Republicans had expected, despite Biden’s anemic approval ratings and deep voter frustration over near-unprecedented inflation.
Democrats portrayed Republicans as extremist, pointing to the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate a nationwide right to abortion and the hundreds of Republican nominees who promoted former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Some of Trump’s most high-profile endorsed candidates lost pivotal races on Tuesday, marring his status as Republican kingmaker and leading several Republicans to blame his divisive brand for the party’s disappointing performance.
The outcome may increase the chances that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who routed his Democratic challenger on Tuesday, opts to challenge Trump for the 2024 presidential nomination. While Trump has not officially launched a third White House campaign, the former president has strongly suggested he will do so and is planning a “special announcement” at his Florida club on Tuesday.
Trump lambasted DeSantis in a statement on Thursday, taking credit for the governor’s political rise, while attacking critics on his social media site, Truth Social.
Even a narrow Republican House majority would be able to demand concessions in exchange for votes on key issue such as raising the nation’s borrowing limit.
But with few votes to spare, McCarthy might struggle to hold his caucus together – particularly the hard-right faction that is largely aligned with Trump and has little interest in compromise.