US Democrats keep control of Senate with win in Nevada

Catherine Cortez Masto's victory pushes party's tally to 50 seats

Catherine Cortez Masto won the US Senate election in Nevada to give the Democratic Party a total of 50 seats in the 100-member chamber. AFP
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Democrats kept control of the US Senate on Saturday, repelling Republican efforts to retake the chamber and making it harder for them to thwart President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The outcome of the midterm elections in the House of Representatives was still uncertain as the Republicans struggled to pull together a slim majority there.

Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada gave the Democrats the 50 seats they needed to keep the 100-member Senate.

Her win reflects the surprising strength of Democrats across the US in the election. Seeking re-election in an economically challenged state that has some of the highest fuel prices in the nation, Ms Cortez Masto was considered the Senate’s most vulnerable member, adding to the frustration of Republicans who were confident she could be defeated.

“We got a lot done and we’ll do a lot more for the American people,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said. “The American people rejected — soundly rejected — the anti-democratic, authoritarian, nasty and divisive direction the MAGA Republicans wanted to take our country.”

With the results in Nevada now decided, Georgia is the only state where both parties are still competing for a Senate seat. Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock faces Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a December 6 run-off. Alaska’s Senate race has advanced to ranked choice voting, though the seat will stay in Republican hands.

Democratic control of the Senate ensures a smoother process for Mr Biden’s Cabinet appointments and judicial selections, including those for potential Supreme Court openings. The party will also keep control over committees and have the power to conduct investigations or oversight of the Biden administration, and will be able to reject legislation sent over by the House if the Republicans win that chamber.

If Democrats manage to pull off a win in the House, it would mean full control of Congress for the party — and another chance to advance Mr Biden’s priorities, which he has said include codifying abortion rights. The party still lacks the 60 votes in the Senate needed to move many major legislative changes.

The Senate fight had hinged on a handful of deeply contested seats. Both parties spent tens of millions of dollars in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, the top battlegrounds where Democrats had hoped that the Republicans’ decision to nominate untested candidates — many backed by former president Donald Trump — would help them defy national headwinds.

Democrats scored a big win in Pennsylvania, where Lt Gov John Fetterman defeated celebrity heart surgeon Dr Mehmet Oz, who was endorsed by Mr Trump, to pick up a seat currently held by a Republican. Arizona Senator Mark Kelly won re-election by about 5 percentage points.

A closely divided swing state, Nevada is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, a working-class state whose residents have been especially hard-hit by inflation and other economic turmoil. About three quarters of Nevada voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction, and about half called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters.

Heading into the midterm election, Republicans focused relentlessly on the economy, a top concern for many voters amid stubborn inflation and high fuel and food prices. The Republican party also attacked the Democrats on crime, a message that sometimes overstated the threat but nonetheless tapped into anxiety, particularly among the suburban voters who turned away from the party in 2018 and 2020. And they highlighted illegal border crossings, accusing Mr Biden and other Democrats of failing to protect the country.

We knew that the negativity, the nastiness, the condoning of Donald Trump’s big lie — and saying that the elections were rigged when there’s no proof of that at all — would hurt Republicans, not help them
Chuck Schumer, Democrat Senate majority leader

But Democrats were buoyed by voters angry about the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. They also portrayed Republicans as too extreme and a threat to democracy, following the January 6 riot at the US Capitol and Mr Trump’s false claims — repeated by many party candidates — that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Mr Schumer said Democratic candidates’ promises to defend abortion rights resonated with voters. He said the election results made him feel good about the country and its commitment to democracy.

“We knew that the negativity, the nastiness, the condoning of Donald Trump’s big lie — and saying that the elections were rigged when there’s no proof of that at all — would hurt Republicans, not help them,” he said. “But too many of them, and their candidates, fell into those traps.”

Referring to Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Mr Schumer said voters had rejected “extremist MAGA Republicans”.

Nationally, VoteCast showed that seven out of 10 voters said the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade was an important factor in their midterm decisions. It also showed the reversal was broadly unpopular. And roughly six out of 10 said they favoured a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Half of voters said inflation factored significantly in their vote, while 44 per cent said the future of democracy was their primary consideration.

Beyond Congress, Democrats won key governors’ races in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — battlegrounds critical to Mr Biden’s 2020 win over Mr Trump. Republicans, though, held the governors’ mansions in Florida, Texas and Georgia — another battleground state Mr Biden narrowly won two years ago.

Although the midterms failed to deliver Republican romps, Mr Trump remains a major factor in the party and plans to announce his third run for the presidency on Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida — setting up a potential rematch for the White House with Mr Biden.

Updated: November 13, 2022, 4:43 AM