Democratic U.S. senators have gained significant ground in too-tight-to-call races in Nevada and Arizona, raising the odds that President Biden’s party could wrap up control of the chamber even before Georgia votes in a runoff.
Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nevada) closed the gap significantly with Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, while Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) expanded his lead over the GOP’s Blake Masters when batches of mail-in ballots were counted in both states.
If Democrats win both races, they would have 50 Senate seats and win control for the next two years regardless of the outcome in Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Cortez-Masto lagged in most polls and was widely considered to be the Democratic incumbent most likely to lose her seat in the midterms.
After trailing narrowly in the Election Night tally, Cortez-Masto was rapidly making up ground on Laxalt as mail-in votes are counted, winning more than 60% of those ballots.
Laxalt led by just about 15,000 votes early Thursday, according to CNN, with more than 110,000 mailed ballots left to count.
Several respected analysts point out that if the rest of the ballots break the same way, Cortez-Masto will wind up beating Laxalt by a small but significant margin.
“If (Cortez-Masto) continues to win urban mail at current clip, taking 65%, she will easily overtake Laxalt with 110,000 mail (at least) left,” tweeted John Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent.
CNN reported that in Arizona, Kelly led by about 93,000 votes and expanded his lead significantly as batches of mail-in ballots were counted from Phoenix’s Maricopa County and Pima County, which includes Tempe.
There are an estimated 450,000 ballots left to count in Arizona, potentially raising much more uncertainty about the final results than in Nevada.
Republicans note that the mail-in ballots that remain to be counted include many that were dropped off on Election Day, a category of ballots that favored Republicans in the 2020 election.
But the smart money still says Kelly hold on to win, especially since polls had consistently showed him doing better in Arizona compared to Cortez-Masto in neighboring Nevada.
“Excellent chance now that Dems will have 50 Senate seats/control in hand heading into the GA runoff,” said Dave Wasserman, the famed forecaster for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Even as votes were being tallied out West, the Georgia race was already heating up, with the Democratic Senate campaign committee allocating $7 million to boost Warnock and an anti-abortion group announcing a $1 million push for Walker.
The Georgia race will be hard-fought no matter what. But it will look very different if Democrats already boast control of the Senate.