Election Day 2022 didn’t turn out at all like Republicans had hoped and even expected. Their performances in the battle for the House, the Senate and in other races rank among the worst for an opposition party in recent midterm history.
But thanks to the razor-thin majorities Democrats brought into Tuesday, Republicans are still expected to narrowly win the House, and could also grab the Senate — which would surely be more than a consolation prize.
Which leads to the question: Will they?
Democrats appear to have a slight edge in the Senate, but much remains unknown, and it’s all very much in play.
Technically, four races remain uncalled after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was declared the winner in his race early Wednesday afternoon. They are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. But the winner in Alaska will be a Republican, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) favored to edge fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka in a ranked-choice race.
That leaves us with three — Arizona, Nevada and Georgia — and the party that can win two of them will nab the barest of majorities.
It’s going to take some time to learn the outcome — potentially days or even weeks. The vote counts in Arizona and Nevada are slow. And Georgia will head for a runoff on Dec. 6.
We’ll take the first two races first.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) leads Republican Blake Masters by nearly five points with two-thirds of the vote in. He appears to be Democrats’ best shot at getting one of the two seats they need.
The vast majority of the remaining vote is in Kelly-friendly counties — Maricopa (Kelly plus-8) and Pima (Kelly plus-26). But Masters could actually make up ground with the remaining Maricopa votes, given that Republicans do well on late mail ballots in the state, and there are as many as a half-million uncounted votes in that county alone. (Arizona was the rare state in 2020 in which Donald Trump gained in late counting.) What’s clear for now is that Masters is running well behind the GOP nominee in the governor’s race, Kari Lake, and could lose even if she pulls out a win.
In Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt leads by about two points with four-fifths of the vote in. But there, the late-counted mail ballots — particularly in Clark County, home to Las Vegas — will help the Democrat, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Renowned Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston now estimates that Cortez Masto has a good shot, as long as she keeps racking up something close to the 65 percent of late-counted mail ballots that she has been. She currently trails by nearly 16,000 votes with a reported 100,000-plus ballots left to count.
If her margin decreases from 65-30 to 60-30, for instance, she would still in decisively.
If it is 60-35, same.
If it’s 55-30, same.
If it’s 55-35, same.
She wins in all those models.
Good night to all. See you for more math tomorrow!
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) November 10, 2022
If Democrats can win both, Georgia would be immaterial to the Senate majority. But if the races are split — say, if Kelly and Laxalt hold onto their leads — the Georgia runoff would again determine which party controls the Senate, just as a pair of Georgia runoffs did in 2020.
Democrats probably feel reasonably good about that. While runoffs have broken both ways in the state and are unpredictable, a few things augur well for them. For one, Warnock will start closer to 50 percent than Walker and has generally polled as being more popular. Second, Democrats gained in both 2020 runoffs — winning each and getting a 50-50 Senate split, with Vice President Harris’s tiebreaker as the majority-maker. They have also over-performed in recent months in special elections, which like runoffs feature lower turnout. And it seems possible that the increased glare on the race might hurt Walker, who has proven an unsteady and flawed candidate, to say the least.
At the same time, non-Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) could tell you something about what it means to have been so close to 50 percent plus one; he was within 0.27 percentage points in 2020 but still lost the runoff. Republicans also once routinely over-performed in Georgia runoffs. Before 2020, they had won 9 of the previous 10 runoffs featuring a Republican-vs.-Democrat matchup. In the 2008 Senate runoff, for instance, then-Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) turned a three-point race into a 15-point win. (They also gained ground in two statewide runoffs held as recently as 2018.)
Part of the reason that race became a blowout was how crucial it was nationally. Democrats could have had a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate majority if they knocked off Chambliss; that didn’t play well in what was then a more conservative state.
But divided government didn’t win the day in 2020. Georgians would’ve been well aware that casting ballots for Democrats could give the party full control of Washington, and they voted blue anyway.
We’ll see if they confront a similar choice in 2022. For now, all eyes are on Arizona and Nevada, with the next shoe most likely to drop in Arizona.
This story has been updated with the latest news.