Democrats Hold the Senate, as Cortez Masto Ekes Out a Victory in Nevada The Denver Post

Democrats sealed control of the Senate on Saturday as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada narrowly defeated Adam Laxalt, a Republican former state attorney general, a decisive moment in an extraordinary midterm election in which Democrats defied historical patterns and predictions of major losses.

Control of the House has still not been decided, several days after an Election Day that fell short of predictions that Republicans would sweep to power in Washington in a repudiation of President Joe Biden’s leadership. Although Republicans still have an edge in capturing the House, their majority would certainly be small.

But with Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada, which was called by The Associated Press on Saturday night, Democrats have nailed down the 50 seats they need to retain control of the upper chamber, a major feat considering that voters typically punish the president’s party during the midterms.

A Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, will offer only a slight padding of Democrats’ majority or a consolation prize to Republicans.

The Democratic victory in Nevada, along with Sen. Mark Kelly’s reelection in Arizona, which was called late Friday, affirmed the thin firewall that the party is trying to fortify in the West. Biden won Arizona by a mere 10,457 votes in 2020; Nevada has been more consistently Democratic in presidential years but erratic in midterms. Cortez Masto, who became the first Latina senator six years ago, had to come from behind to beat Laxalt, who was backed by former President Donald Trump, overtaking him Saturday when mail-in ballots, mainly from Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, were finally tabulated.

A Democratic Senate will be invaluable to Biden, even if Republicans narrowly secure control of the House. The president will have two more years to confirm judges to the federal bench and will have more control over personnel in his government with the confirmation of nominees under the guidance of Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.

By never bringing House bills to a vote, Senate Democrats will be able to insulate him from having to veto politically difficult legislation. Senate Democrats will be able to answer political messaging bills passed by the House with political messages of their own, using bipartisan measures like the infrastructure bill and the gun control bill that came out of the current 50-50 Senate in an effort to pressure House Republicans to act.

But in past showdowns, bipartisan solutions secured in the Senate have ultimately been swallowed by the House. That becomes more likely in the case of a divided Congress, with the Senate in Democratic hands.

Senate Democrats will also be a voice for the administration when Congress must pass bills to fund the government and raise the statutory borrowing limit. But Republicans, if they win control of the House, will almost certainly try to extract concessions, under the threat of government shutdowns or even a potentially disastrous debt default.

Republican leaders in the House have already indicated they will demand to undo a large funding increase for personnel at the IRS, which was included in the Inflation Reduction Act passed this year. They are also planning to press for more money for controls at the U.S. border with Mexico and to complete the border wall started by Trump.

For much of the midterm campaigns, Republicans and independent analysts saw GOP control of the House as a foregone conclusion, given Biden’s unpopularity and the headwinds that economic uncertainty and inflation represented for Democratic candidates.

But control of the Senate appeared to be a seesaw battle. Those same political headwinds burdened Democratic candidates for the Senate, but weak Republican challengers, many of them endorsed or hand-picked by Trump, gave Democrats a fighting chance in swing states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.

In the heated aftermath of the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, which ended constitutional protections for abortion, Democrats thought they could bolster their 50-vote control by two or three seats. Then the pendulum seemed to swing late in the campaigns, and Republicans convinced themselves that the anger over abortion was waning. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the leader of Senate Republicans’ political arm, said in late October that he saw a path to a 55-seat Republican majority, predicting that even Democratic states like Washington and Colorado were in play.

In the end, the field proved to be much smaller. Democrats were able to capture just one Republican seat, that of the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, which was won by the state’s lieutenant governor, John Fetterman. But, so far, Republicans have defeated no Democrats in Senate races. And only one Democratic incumbent, Warnock in Georgia, is left to possible defeat.

Deciding Senate control before Georgia’s runoff could affect the Warnock-Walker race. Voters on both sides may have less motivation to turn out with the stakes considerably lower. Democrats hope that will be particularly helpful to Warnock.

Walker’s campaign for Senate has been dogged by allegations of domestic violence and exaggerations of his résumé, and by accusations from two former girlfriends that he paid for them to have abortions. The last was especially problematic for a candidate who has been an unwavering opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.

Some Georgia voters appeared to have split their tickets between Warnock and the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who easily won re-election on Tuesday. Some may have voted for Kemp and left the Senate slots blank.

Now, with Kemp not on the ballot and a Senate majority no longer in play, Democrats hope a significant number of Georgia Republicans will stay home on Dec. 6.(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)But the lower stakes could affect Democratic turnout as well, which would deprive Warnock of the claim that his victory carries weight beyond simple Senate control. In truth, however, 51 seats would have practical implications. Instead of evenly divided Senate committees, Democrats would have a numerical majority, which would help them issue subpoenas, research nominations and send legislation to a final vote without the interceding of the Senate Democratic leader.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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