The Democrats have held on to the U.S. Senate, continuing the party’s surprising showing in midterm elections and making it easier to push forward President Joe Biden’s policy agenda.
Victories in Nevada and Arizona, confirmed over the weekend after several days of vote counting, brought the party to the 50-seat threshold needed to hold the upper chamber, with the help of Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
Control of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, remains uncertain, with several tight races in California still too close to call nearly a week after the Nov. 8 vote.
Holding the Senate allows Mr. Biden to keep making appointments, including of federal court judges, which the upper chamber must approve. It will also make it easier for him to pass budget legislation, and try to advance promised laws protecting abortion rights and expanding the country’s social safety net, though even a slim Republican majority in the House could torpedo these moves.
The election results are a blow to former president Donald Trump, who backed a string of election-denying candidates, only to watch swing-state voters reject them days before he is expected to announce a 2024 bid to return to the White House.
“We were on the edge of autocracy and, thank God, the American people pulled us back in this election,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, said at a press conference in New York on Sunday.
Mr. Trump and some other Republicans are already baselessly claiming midterm races were rigged, in an echo of his failed 2020 efforts to overturn the presidential election.
But Mr. Biden was looking ahead to the next legislative session, when he said he hoped to get Congress to raise the country’s debt ceiling. He said the Senate victory was an endorsement of his agenda, which has included building infrastructure and combatting climate change.
“I’m incredibly pleased by the turnout, and I think it’s a reflection of the quality of our candidates. They’re all running on the same program,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a summit in Phnom Penh.
Democrats will have the chance to add to their Senate margin next month in a runoff election in Georgia. Winning a 51st seat in the state would allow the Democrats to take majorities on Senate committees. It would also dilute the power of Democratic moderates, such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have held up legislation with protracted negotiations to secure their votes.
Republicans had predicted a “red wave” that would handily deliver them control of Congress on the back of high inflation and low approval ratings for Mr. Biden.
Instead, the Democrats successfully hammered the Republicans for curbing abortion access and supporting Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged. The Democrats have so far held all of their Senate seats and picked up a previously Republican one in Pennsylvania. They also defeated Republican election deniers in gubernatorial races in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and in secretary of state races across the country.
In Arizona’s Senate race, Republican Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who subscribes to the white nationalist “great replacement” theory, lost to incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut. In Nevada, Adam Laxalt, who led court challenges to the 2020 election, failed to unseat Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.
Mr. Trump tried to shift the blame for the losses to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. In a post on his Truth Social platform, he accused Mr. McConnell of “Giving 4 Trillion Dollars to the Radical Left for the Green New Deal.” Mr. Trump also hurled a racist insult at Elaine Chao, Mr. McConnell’s wife and Mr. Trump’s former transportation secretary, who was born in Taiwan. In an apparent typo, he said Democrats “stole the Electron” in Arizona.
Republicans in the state made similar accusations, after some polling stations in Phoenix printed ballots too faintly to be read by counting machines. The problem was fixed that day and did not lead to any polling station closings, but it did result in lengthy lineups.
“Voter suppression reared its ugly head in Arizona at the hands of Maricopa County,” said Kelli Ward, the state party chair, referring to the county that includes Phoenix. “It must be corrected before this election is certified.”
Protesters gathered outside the Maricopa County election headquarters in Phoenix on Saturday, the first such demonstration since the election. But they dispersed by evening at the urging of Charlie Kirk, an influential far-right figure. “Don’t give them an excuse to stop counting votes,” he said.
Kari Lake, the Trump-supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate, is still holding out hope of victory. She is nearly even in the vote count with Democrat Katie Hobbs.
Among Republican moderates, the knives were out for Mr. Trump. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan suggested on CNN Sunday that he might run against the former president for the nomination. “We have to get back to a party that appeals to more people, that can win in tough places,” he said. “That lane is much wider now than it was a week ago.”
ADRIAN MORROW, U.S. CORRESPONDENT
NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT
The Globe and Mail, November 13, 2022