WASHINGTON — Democrats defied historical trends and defeated several candidates backed by former President Donald Trump to keep control of the Senate, providing enormous relief for President Joe Biden.
The battle for the House, meanwhile, remains too close to call.
The picture in the Senate became clear late Saturday after Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada narrowly defeated Republican Adam Laxalt to win re-election, putting her party over the threshold, NBC News projected Saturday.
"Thank you, Nevada!" Cortez Masto said in a tweet Saturday evening after its two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, finished counting mail-in ballots.
Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona won his re-election contest in Arizona, NBC News projected Friday evening, directing all eyes to Nevada.
Both Laxalt and Masters were endorsed by Trump and promoted his false claims about the presidential race he lost. Laxalt has said the 2020 election was "rigged."
Biden can now count on partners in the Senate to confirm his judicial and administration appointments, even if his legislative agenda ends up effectively blocked because of a Republican takeover of the House.
The president’s party typically loses ground in Congress during the first midterm elections as Americans seek to put a check on power. But weak GOP candidates and voter concern about issues like abortion rights and election denialism galvanized the Democratic base and turned off swing voters in states that might have been winnable for Republicans under different circumstances.
The close nature of the decisive Senate contests — and a House of Representatives still up in the air – reflect the stark division in the country, fueled in recent years by political, demographic and technological changes that have pushed Americans into more strident and homogenous camps.
The NBC News Exit Poll portrayed an electorate that is deeply dissatisfied with the state of the country and concerned about its future.
Three-quarters of Americans said the economy was “not good” or “poor.” Almost half said their personal finances are worse off than they were two years ago. And almost three-quarters reported being “dissatisfied” or “angry” about the way things are going. Just 5% said they were enthusiastic.
Biden is broadly unpopular, with just 36% saying his policies are helping the country, even among Democratic-leaning groups, like Latinos and voters under 30.
A broad majority of voters (70%) said they believe democracy is “threatened.” Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (66%) said they do not believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.
Most voters said they were disappointed or angry about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. And 60% said abortion should be legal in most cases.
Democrats and abortion rights supporters were galvanized after Tuesday's results.
Ballot measures to support abortion rights won in Michigan, California and Vermont, while an anti-abortion measure on the ballot in Kansas was defeated, NBC News projects. In Montana, voters rejected a measure that would force "medical care to be provided for any infant born alive after an attempted abortion, induced labor, or other method."
Republicans needed to net only a single seat to retake the Senate , which is split 50-50, with Democrats in control thanks only to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.
Instead, Democrats won the only Senate seat that changed party, when Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz to win the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
In all other competitive races, incumbents were re-elected or retiring senators were replaced by members of their own party.
Still, one seat in the Senate remains up for grabs as Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker head to a Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia after neither cleared the 50% threshold required under state law.
The outcome of the Georgia runoff will not determine control of the Senate, but it will give Democrats one more vote in a chamber where they have often been stymied by dissent from within their ranks by members like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.