Democrat Mark Kelly has won re-election to the US Senate in the battleground state of Arizona, bringing his party a step closer to holding its majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
According to the Associated Press, Kelly, a former astronaut, was projected to win his contest with Republican candidate Blake Masters, who was supported by former president Donald Trump and heavily bankrolled by Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and conservative donor.
With Kelly’s win in Arizona, Democrats only need one more seat to maintain the 50 out of 100 in the upper chamber of Congress that gives them a majority, since Kamala Harris, the vice-president, can cast tiebreaking votes.
The call was made after a large batch of results was released by Maricopa County, which represents about 60 per cent of all Arizona voters, on Friday evening, extending Kelly’s lead over Masters to more than 125,000 votes.
In a statement on Friday night, Kelly said: “This campaign has been about the many Arizonans — Democrats, independents, and Republicans — who believe in working together to tackle the significant challenges we face. That’s exactly what I’ve done in my first two years in office and what I will continue to do for as long as I’m there.”
Masters has yet to comment on his loss, but blamed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell for Kelly’s lead earlier in the evening on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. “Had [McConnell] chose to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over, we’d be celebrating a Senate majority,” he said.
Democrats could reach 50 if Catherine Cortez-Masto wins re-election in Nevada against Republican Adam Laxalt in a race that is still too close to call. But they could also reach their goal in a run-off set for December 6 in Georgia between Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democrat, and Herschel Walker, the former American football star running as a Republican.
Keeping a Democratic edge in the Senate is vital for president Joe Biden as it will allow his party to approve judicial nominations, executive branch appointments, and set the legislative agenda even if Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives.
Arizona used to be a reliably conservative state but has shifted to the left in recent years and now has two Democrats in the upper chamber, including in the seat once held by the late former presidential candidate John McCain.
Republicans were hoping to turn the tide back in this election cycle on the back of voter concerns over inflation, immigration and crime, but attacks against Kelly failed to gain huge traction. Kelly, who is married to former Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is generally considered a moderate Democrat, while Masters was closely tied to Trump and more extreme Republicans.
Although Senate control was always considered a toss-up, Kelly’s win will be the latest disappointment for Republicans, who were hoping to make sweeping gains during the midterm elections, but ended up underperforming as voters worried as much about losing abortion rights and basic democratic values as they did about punishing Democrats for high prices.
The other big races being watched in Arizona include a bitter contest for governor pitting Democrat Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state, against Kari Lake, a Trump-backed Republican and former television news anchor who has refused to say she would accept the result of her election if she loses.
Shortly after calling the senate race for Kelly, AP also projected Democrat Adrian Fontes, former Maricopa County Recorder, to win the secretary of state race over Trump-endorsed Republican Mark Finchem, who has repeatedly called the 2020 election “illegitimate.”
Hobbs has maintained a slim lead over Lake, though that contest, along with a close race for attorney-general, will be determined by tens of thousands of votes yet to be processed.