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Nevada just decided the battle for Senate control

Democrats have taken back the Senate majority with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory.

An illustration with a blue background shows a person sitting, feet toward the viewer, holding a large red circle with a question mark in it that covers the rest of their body. Christina Animashaun/Vox
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Control of the United States Senate was decided Saturday night when the Associated Press projected Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto the winner of Nevada’s election, cementing the Democrats’ hold on the chamber.

A runoff election in Georgia will determine if the party gets a 51st vote:

Vice President Kamala Harris will continue to give Democrats the tie-breaking vote for the next two years — though it won’t be necessary if Democrats win in Georgia’s runoff election. The GOP is going to win in Alaska, with two Republicans vying for the seat.

Coming into election night, the race for Senate control was tight: Of the 35 seats at stake this election, nine were truly in play, according to Cook Political Report, a group that conducts nonpartisan political analysis. Republicans needed to net just one Senate seat to take back the majority, but ultimately weren’t able to do so. Long-shot bids to topple Democratic incumbents in Washington state and New Hampshire fell far short. Even in the closer races, Republicans did not gain ground.

There are two Senate races still to be determined: Alaska and Georgia. Alaska will end up in Republican hands; it’s just a question of which Republican, as incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is locked in a close race with a challenger from her own party, Kelly Tshibaka. Georgia, meanwhile, will not determine whether Democrats hold the Senate majority, but how big that majority is.

There’s one Senate seat still in play

Georgia: Incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock is headed to a runoff against Republican Herschel Walker. In Georgia, if no candidate clears 50 percent in the November election, a runoff election will be held in December between the top two vote-getting candidates. Warnock is putting up a strong defense in 2022 after his narrow 2020 win handed the Democrats their current Senate majority, likely aided by scandals over Walker’s previous affairs and revelations he had paid for abortions despite saying on the campaign trail he was staunchly anti-abortion.

Democrats won their current Senate majority after runoff elections in 2020 put Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in office. If the Senate majority hinges on a runoff there again next month, there will be an enormous blitz of campaigning and ad spending over the next few weeks.

The swing Senate races that are already called

Nevada: Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was declared the winner by the Associated Press on Saturday evening when her lead in the state’s remaining ballots became unsurmountable. Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, overcame a somewhat unfavorable environment for Democrats in the state, seemingly putting together a coalition of Democrats, independents, and perhaps even some disaffected Republicans. She ran ahead of the current Democratic governor, who lost his reelection bid to a Republican challenger.

Arizona: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly won his first full six-year term against Republican challenger Blake Masters Friday, winning (with about 20 percent of the vote left to tally) 51 percent of the vote to Masters’ 46 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Kelly was propelled to office in a 2020 special election to fill a vacant seat after his career as an astronaut and provided Democrats with a key vote for their legislative agenda in the last two years. Masters drew some enthusiasm from the GOP base as an unabashed hard-right candidate, but he was also a prominent example of Republicans nominating an extreme candidate in a swing state. Now that Masters has fallen short in his bid, expect even more agonizing over the quality of the candidates (or lack thereof) that the GOP put forward in pivotal campaigns this year.

There is only one Senate seat that has changed hands so far — and it flipped to the Democrats.

Pennsylvania: After a very tight battle, Democratic candidate John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz to flip the Republican-held open seat in Pennsylvania. He’ll replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Pennsylvania was one of the most fiercely contested races in the country, attracting a ton of money and campaign appearances from President Joe Biden and his two immediate predecessors in the final days of the campaign. The race saw an unexpected twist earlier in the campaign when Fetterman suffered a stroke, and Oz appeared to close the gap as the race wound down.

But thanks, in part, to the strength of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro at the top of the ticket and a more favorable environment for Democrats overall, Fetterman ended up winning on Tuesday without having to sweat it too much.

Two other swing state Senate races produced the expected final results, though one with a better margin than Democrats anticipated, and one that got too close for Republicans’ comfort.

New Hampshire: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan comfortably won reelection after a few weeks of tight polls, Republican confidence, and Democratic anxiety. Hassan beat GOP nominee Don Bolduc, a far-right candidate who claimed Trump won the 2020 election and supports the rollback of abortion rights.

Wisconsin: But in one bright spot for Republicans, they did not lose the Senate election in Wisconsin. That race had appeared safely in hand before Election Day, though the race turned out to be surprisingly close. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson eked out a victory over Democrat Mandela Barnes, but the tightness of this race was a sign of surprising Democratic strength across the country.

Update: November 12, 10 pm ET: This story has been updated to reflect Sen. Cortez Masto’s win in Nevada.

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