The Senate comes down to two key swing states — and maybe a runoff
Democrat John Fetterman flipped Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, giving his party 48 seats, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) secured reelection late Wednesday morning. That gives Democrats 48 seats and Republicans 49 — meaning whichever party wins two of the three outstanding contests in Arizona, Georgia — which is headed to another runoff — and Nevada will control the Senate.
Arizona and Nevada are the biggest question marks, with significant numbers of votes still to be counted in both states. If either party sweeps those two states, it will take control of the Senate regardless of what happens in Georgia next month.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is facing off with Republican Adam Laxalt in Nevada. Laxalt leads with more than 70 percent of the expected vote counted. But there is still a long way to go in the state, and Laxalt’s advantage is tenuous because of a glut of potentially Democratic-leaning outstanding ballots. Nevada’s two most populous counties — Democratic-leaning Clark County, home of Las Vegas, and battleground Washoe County, home of Reno — have at least tens of thousands of outstanding ballots to be counted.
Clark County registrar of voters Joe Gloria, the chief election official there, said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that 14,718 ballots will be reported this evening and the county plans to publish results from a new tranche of counted ballts once a day going forward.
The votes that will be reported later this evening are from ballots that were picked up from drop boxes on Monday or delivered by the United States Postal Service on Tuesday.
An additional 12,700 ballots were received from Postal Service officials on Wednesday and will be processed later this week. Nevada ballots that have a USPS postmark by Election Day, but are delivered to election officials by Nov. 12, will also be counted.
Gloria added that “there is a considerable amount” of ballots that were deposited in dropboxes on Election Day that need to be processed, but he did not have a specific number. All in-person votes on Election Day have been tallied.
Similarly, officials in Washoe County have many, many ballots to count. As of Wednesday morning, officials there need to tally 39,000 mail ballots received prior to Election Day, along with 18,000 mail ballots received on Tuesday — as well as properly postmarked ballots that arrive over the next several days, KRNV reported. And rural, red counties also still have thousands of ballots to count, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
Arizona, too, still has many votes outstanding. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has the edge, and his lead over Republican Blake Masters is expected to shrink dramatically — but not erode completely. As of early Wednesday morning, around 60 percent of the vote was counted in the state.
Election officials there have long warned that this would be the case. In Maricopa County, the state’s largest county, mail ballots that were returned close to Election Day will not be tallied until Wednesday at the earliest. Maricopa Recorder Stephen Richer, the county’s chief election officer, tweeted Wednesday that there are still hundreds of thousands of votes to count in the state’s most populous county.
Still left to be tabulated, as of Wednesday morning, are over 400,000 ballots that were dropped off in drop boxes between Friday and Election Day — including an overwhelming 275,000 ballots returned on Tuesday, which Richer noted was 100,000 more than were dropped off on Election Day 2020.
Additionally, ballots that were cast at polling places and could not be read by tabulation machines — reportedly a widespread occurrence in Maricopa — must now be tallied at central voting locations. Richer placed that number at approximately 17,000. Officials said before the election that they hoped to have 99 percent of ballots tabulated by Friday.
Pinal County, a red-leaning county south of Phoenix, said Wednesday morning that it had nearly 27,000 ballots left to tally, which were mostly deposited at drop boxes over the weekend or returned to polling places on Election Day. And Pima County, a blue county, had at least 50,000 ballots to run through as of Wednesday morning, the Tucson Sentinel reported.
In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock leads Republican Herschel Walker narrowly. The problem for Warnock — and Democrats — is that the incumbent fell below a majority of the vote, which triggered a Dec. 6 runoff between Warnock and Walker. The race was officially sent to a runoff on Wednesday afternoon.
If the two parties split Arizona and Nevada, Senate control would once again come down to the Peach State, just as it did in 2020. Two years ago, Democrats swept a pair of runoffs in the state, securing a 50/50 split in the chamber and making Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
Warnock will finish in first in the November election, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will prevail in December. In one of the two 2020 runoffs, then-Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) also finished just shy of the 50 percent threshold. But now-Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) stormed past him to win the race for a full term in the early 2021 runoff. Warnock, meanwhile, also won a special election Senate runoff in 2021, defeating then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) after the pair emerged from a fractured November field.
Warnock’s victory then gave him two years in the Senate, while this year’s contest will decide a full six-year term.
One significant difference for this year’s runoff is the timing. Runoffs in the state used to be in early January. But after suffering those losses in 2021, Georgia Republicans changed the law in the state to bump runoffs up by about a month, setting them for early December.
GOP ahead in House battle — but winning smaller-than-expected gains
Republicans are still leading the race for the House majority, but the number of uncalled races point to how surprisingly close the battle for the chamber has been.
Of the 26 House races POLITICO forecast as “toss-ups,” just 14 were called as of early Wednesday afternoon. Another 20 races POLITICO rated as “Lean Democrat” or “Lean Republican” are also uncalled. Altogether, that includes nine races in California, a slow-counting state — one of several reasons why resolving control of the House majority could take some time.
Perhaps the most shocking seat still outstanding is in Colorado, where controversial Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who represents a heavily Republican seat that got redder in redistricting, narrowly trails Democratic opponent Adam Frisch with over 90 percent of the vote tallied.
Back to the toss-up districts: In New York, two upstate bellwether races remain uncalled, in the 22nd District where the GOP has the lead and the 18th District where Democrats are leading.
One toss-up district in Pennsylvania remain uncalled — but Democratic Reps. Susan Wild has the lead.