Critical U.S. Senate races still have days of vote counting left
Georgia run-off may determine Senate control, but that depends on undetermined Arizona, Nevada races
Republicans have inched closer to a narrow U.S. House majority while control of the Senate hinged on a few tight races in a midterm election that will determine the type of Congress that President Joe Biden will have to deal with over the next two years, while setting the table for the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Either party could secure a Senate majority with wins in both Nevada and Arizona — where the races were too early to call.
But there was also a strong possibility that, as in early 2021, the Senate majority could come down to a run-off in Georgia. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock led Herschel Walker, but each failed to hit the 50 per cent threshold to win outright due to other candidates that will drop off the run-off ballot on Dec. 6.
In the current congressional session, the Senate is 50-50, but Vice-President Kamala Harris casts any tiebreaking votes for the Democrats.
Republicans are projected as holding a 49-48 lead for the next session. While the Alaska race is still too close to call, it is a battle of two Republican candidates, incumbent Lisa Murkowski and Donald Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka.
So all eyes will turn to Nevada and Arizona before a Georgia run-off occurs.
Republican Blake Masters, an investment executive, trails Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona by five percentage points. A Nevada contest between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt has not yet been called, with Laxalt leading by less than two percentage points as of late Thursday.
It could take several days before it's clear who will win those Senate races, as well as in several House districts, owing in part to rules about counting ballots.
McCarthy-led House wave may not materialize
Control of Congress will affect the Biden agenda. House Republicans would be likely to launch a spate of investigations into Biden, his family and his administration if they take power, while a Republican takeover of the Senate could see the president's picks for the federal judiciary run into stiff resistance.
In the House, Republicans were within a dozen seats of the 218 total needed to take control, while Democrats kept seats in districts from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Kansas.
In a particularly symbolic victory for the Republican Party, Quebec-born Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the House Democratic campaign chief, lost his bid for a sixth term.
On the flip side, Democrats were hoping for a pickup over hard-right gun enthusiast Lauren Boebert in Colorado, though by late Thursday, Boebert had a roughly 1,200-vote lead after two days of additional counting with thousands of ballots left to be tabulated.
With millions of votes still uncounted Wednesday across the nation's most populous state, California, uncertainty remained for about a dozen of the state's 52 House contests. Democratic incumbents Katie Porter and Mike Levin were locked in close races, with progressive favourite Porter having spent more than $24 million US to win a third term.
A small majority in the House would pose a great challenge for the Republicans and especially California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to be House Speaker and would have little room for error in navigating a chamber of members eager to leverage their votes to advance their own agenda.
"Look, we were told we were going to have an incredible, incredible wave," said Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, in an online streaming show.
"If that would have been the case … you would say, 'Well, OK, Kevin is the presumptive Republican nominee for Speaker.' But I think we need to have a serious discussion."
Nevada, Arizona set timeline expectations
In Nevada, the continuing vote count includes more than 100,000 ballots still to tabulate that were delivered to drop boxes on election day and sent by mail.
Nevada election clerks will count mail ballots received until Nov. 12 as long as they were postmarked by election day. Officials have until Nov. 17 to finish the counting and submit a report to the Nevada secretary of state's office, according to state law.
Voting officials in the two most populous counties, encompassing the population centres of Las Vegas and Reno, warned it would take days to process the outstanding ballots.
Hundreds of staff are working to process ballots as quickly as possible, and "every piece of equipment that we have available to process mail will be in use," said Joe Gloria, the registrar of voters.
The counting will continue through the weekend. For any ballots that need a "cure" — which can occur if the signature on the ballot envelope doesn't appear to match the voter's signature on file — voters will have until the close of business on Monday to fix the matter, Gloria said.
Arizona officials push back on criticism
In Arizona, it was still too early to call races there on Thursday, with about a quarter of the ballots still left to count.
After opening with big leads on election night, when only mail ballots returned early were reported, Democrats saw their margins dwindle as more Republican ballots were counted.
Democratic leads improved Thursday afternoon in the races for Kelly in the Senate and for governor, secretary of state and attorney general when Pima County, which includes left-leaning Tucson, reported new results. The Democrats are trying to prevent former Phoenix television anchor Kari Lake — a Trump-supported 2020 election denier — from becoming governor in the race to succeed Republican Doug Ducey.
It could take several days before it's clear who won some of the closer contests, as was the case in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Maricopa County officials emphasized that this year's process was no different than in previous years.
"This is how things work in Arizona and have for decades," said Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the county board of supervisors. He said staff are working 14 to 18 hours a day and will continue through the weekend.
"We are doing what we can and still maintaining accuracy," he said.
Governors' races took on outsized significance in this year's midterms, particularly in battleground states that could help decide the results of the 2024 presidential election. Democrats held on in New York, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in generally competitive races, while Republicans won with room to spare in Florida, Texas and Georgia gubernatorial contests.
The Associated Press reported late Thursday that Democrat Tina Kotek had won election as governor in Oregon, succeeding the unpopular Democrat Kate Brown.
With files from CBC News
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