Democrats edged closer to controlling the Senate as Republican challenger Adam Laxalt’s lead in Nevada over Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) shrank to fewer than 900 votes, with thousands of votes being counted in Clark County, Nevada’s most populous county and a heavily Democratic area, officials there said.
Mail-in ballots were still being collected on Saturday and voters have until 5 p.m. Monday to fix ballots with problems such as missing signatures, Joe Gloria, the registrar in Clark County, said.
A win in Nevada would give Democrats a 50th Senate seat and allow them to retain control in the chamber, as Vice President Harris is empowered to cast tiebreaking votes.
If Republicans win the Nevada seat, control of the Senate would come down to the results of the runoff election in Georgia on Dec. 6. Democratic control of the Senate would block a full GOP takeover on Capitol Hill, giving Democrats power in the chamber that controls the confirmation of executive branch personnel and federal judges.
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According to the Associated Press, only a small number of ballots are left to be counted in rural Nevada, with most of the remaining uncounted ballots in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, and Washoe County, which includes Reno.
The Associated Press estimates that there are up to 38,000 votes left to be counted in Clark County. About 5,000 are provisional ballots, which will be counted. But thousands of ballots need to be “cured” — that is, they require voters to take action to fix any errors. Joe Gloria, the registrar in Clark County said that as of Saturday, there have been 14,651 uncured ballots in the county, of which 7,139 remain unresolved.
Representatives for the Cortez Masto and Laxalt campaigns did not return messages seeking comment on Saturday.
Skepticism of ongoing vote-counting efforts has recently emerged from prominent Republicans, some of whom hold lingering doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R) of South Carolina, for example, said without evidence on a National Republican Senatorial Committee call this week that a Laxalt loss could only be the product of rigging. “There is no mathematical way Laxalt loses,” Graham said, Politico reported. “If he does, then it’s a lie.”
During a news conference on Saturday, Gloria was asked if any campaigns had expressed concerns about the counting process. “I don’t have anything to report there,” he said. Later, Gloria added that he has not heard “anything from any campaign” about allegations of fraud.
Laxalt, who helped lead the Trump campaign effort to overturn the 2020 election, signaled on Saturday that he may lose his race to Cortez Masto for legitimate reasons. In a pair of messages posted on Twitter on Saturday, Laxalt wrote that he led by “only 862 votes” and that if the outstanding votes in Clark County “continue to trend heavy DEM then she will overtake us.”
It is not uncommon for the candidate who was initially behind to catch up and overtake the initial leader, as has been the case in many previous elections.
Laxalt had an early lead in the race before thousands of ballots were counted. Jon Ralston, CEO of the Nevada Independent, a local news organization, tracked the race as updated figures were announced by local election officials.
Hours after voting ended Tuesday, Cortez Masto trailed Laxalt by more than 28,000, Ralston wrote on Twitter. That lead quickly shrank to nearly 23,000 votes. By Wednesday evening, Laxalt’s lead shrank again and was reduced to 9,000 by late Thursday.
By Friday, Ralston wrote on Twitter the race “is essentially tied” with Cortez Masto trailing by fewer than 900 votes.
The count in Nevada comes as Republican leaders are facing a rebellion from their members after failing to pick up as many seats in Tuesday’s midterm as they had predicted in the face of President Biden’s low approval ratings.
Republicans entered the midterms needing to gain one seat to seize control of the Senate. So far, they have fallen short after Democrats flipped a seat in Pennsylvania and held on in several other states seen as vulnerable, running heavily as guardians of abortion rights after the end of Roe v. Wade and casting GOP rivals as extremists. One such state was Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly (D) on Friday night was projected as the winner over Republican challenger Blake Masters.
Masters, who also questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, signaled he might accept his loss too. In a message posted to Twitter, he said he wanted to “make sure that every legal vote is counted” and that “If, at the end, Sen. Kelly has more of them than I do, then I will congratulate him on a hard-fought victory.”
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the board that oversees Election Day operations and tabulation, denied a request from the Republican Party for round-the-clock ballot processing.
Republicans wanted a third shift of election workers to help process and count hundreds of thousands of outstanding ballots. Election officials are pulling 14- to 18-hour shifts each day, through the Veterans Day holiday and the weekend. They are working through ballots in a region known for protracted vote counting, largely because of the popularity of early voting.
Conservative activists and elected officials called Republican supporters to assemble outside of Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation center and “rise up to rally” in protest of the local election administration. One man who identified himself as Dan S. carried a long pole flying a homemade “SOS” flag. He said the message was an appeal to the armed forces “for military intervention” in the ballot counting.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone characterized the crowd as peaceful, and he thanked Charlie Kirk, the founder of the pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA, for urging people not to attend the protest or “say stupid things.” And far-right state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who hours before had been summoning protesters to the county building, reversed course.
“It’s better for folks to STAY AWAY from Maricopa county offices, SO THEY CAN FINISH their job of counting votes,” Rogers tweeted, one hour after the event began.
County officials, for their part, have been trying to tamp down rumors circulating on social media.
“This is how things work in Arizona and have for decades,” Gates said.
The timeline has amped up anxieties among Republicans about the outcome of tight races, including the Arizona governor’s contest between Republican Kari Lake and Democrat Katie Hobbs.
“A third shift for these employees is not feasible,” Gates wrote in an email dated Friday to an attorney representing the Republican National Committee. The Washington Post obtained the correspondence on Saturday through a public-records request. As of Saturday evening, Hobbs led Lake by less than 38,000 votes.
In Nevada, Laxalt sought to tie Cortez Masto to Biden while blaming inflation and crime on Democratic policies. He pointed to a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Cortez Masto helped pass during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cortez Masto, who is the first Latina elected to the Senate, made abortion access central to her campaign.
Laxalt has said he would not support a national abortion ban, but Cortez Masto attacked him over his support for a referendum to ban abortion in Nevada after 13 weeks of pregnancy, as well as his previous false claims that Trump had won the 2020 election.
Republicans did keep control of open senate seats in North Carolina and Ohio. And in Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) narrowly won reelection in a competitive contest.
But the fallout from Tuesday’s midterms burst open on Friday after a group of Senate Republicans called for a delay in senate GOP leadership elections, citing the party’s failure so far to claim the majority.
The move to delay that vote poses a direct challenge to the current leader of that caucus, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
Republicans had spent millions of dollars on losing Senate races in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and also on saving GOP candidates like Vance in Republican-leaning states.
The Senate Leadership Fund PAC, closely associated with McConnell, spent more than $230 million this cycle backing Republicans in races across the country.
Control of the House was still up in the air on Saturday, as counting continued in several close races.
Hannah Knowles and Liz Goodwin contributed reporting.