Democrats keep control of U.S. Senate with Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto celebrates with supporters Sunday in Las Vegas.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto celebrates with supporters Sunday in Las Vegas. Her reelection victory ensures her party will keep control of the Senate.
(Ellen Schmidt / Associated Press)

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, ensured her party will keep control of the Senate after she defeated Republican Adam Laxalt, the state’s former attorney general.

The race was called Saturday by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, control of the U.S. House of Representatives remains too close to call, underscoring how Democrats continue to outperform expectations and deny the GOP’s hopes for a sizable majority.

A jubilant Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the results were “a victory and a vindication” for his party, speaking Saturday evening at a hastily convened news conference in New York. He credited the quality of Democratic candidates as well as the party’s legislative agenda and an electorate willing to reject “the antidemocratic, extremist MAGA Republicans.”

“Contrast our candidates with some of the people they ran against. Our strong candidates beat some very flawed challengers who had no faith in democracy, no fidelity in truth or honor, and even when the polls looked bleak, our candidates never gave up and never lost faith,” Schumer said. “As the MAGA Republicans stoked fear and division, Democrats were talking about how we delivered on issues that matter to people.”


President Biden, with his party holding the Senate, preserves his ability to confirm judicial nominees and Cabinet secretaries.

The president received news of Democrats’ Senate success while in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

“I feel good and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” he said. He expressed hope his party would also claim the House, but acknowledged “it’s a stretch where everything has to fall our way.”

Ronald Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, celebrated on Twitter by typing the number of seats Democrats now hold — 50 — and 14 exclamation points.

Prominent Republicans met the news with silence Saturday evening — at least publicly. Neither Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell nor Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who leads the GOP Senate campaign arm, released a comment.


Keeping the Senate was considered a slightly easier task for Democrats than retaining control in the House. National dynamics — such as presidential approval ratings and economic concerns — exert less force on statewide races; in 2018, for example, Republicans picked up two Senate seats even as Democrats gained 40 seats to win control of the House.

Still, with high inflation and a dissatisfied electorate, the battle for control of the Senate was a toss-up for much of the cycle. Democrats were boosted by dominant fundraising and voter outrage after the Supreme Court reversed decades-old federal protections for access to abortion — a backlash that Schumer said was crucial to the party’s victories.

“Because the American people turned out to elect Democrats in the Senate, there is now a firewall against the nationwide abortion ban threat that so many Republicans have talked about,” Schumer said.

Democrats also benefited from GOP opponents who were popular with Trump supporters but less so with the general electorate.

Jessica Taylor, a Senate campaign analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, said she would never have imagined at the beginning of the cycle that the Democrats could find themselves on the cusp of picking up a Senate seat.

“When we look at history and the current political climate and economic indicators, it is shocking that Democrats may not have lost a single incumbent,” Taylor said.

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Democrats will have an opportunity to build on their majority next month in Georgia, when Sen. Raphael Warnock faces off against GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Warnock narrowly outran Walker in Tuesday’s general election. But he failed to surpass 50% of the vote, forcing a runoff under state law.

Walker ran 5 percentage points behind Gov. Brian Kemp, a fellow Republican who made a successful reelection bid — pointing to a significant number of voters who backed the incumbent governor but not Walker.

Now that control of the Senate has been determined, it may be difficult for Walker to rally those voters to show up, Taylor said.

“It’s a turnout game, and Republicans failed the turnout game last time because [then-President] Trump was trying to overturn the election results,” Taylor said, pointing to the GOP’s loss of two Senate runoffs in Georgia after the 2020 election.

In Nevada, the race between Laxalt and Cortez Masto — viewed as the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrat in the lead-up to Tuesday’s midterm election — came down to the slimmest of margins. The contest was so close in part because the state’s voters are closely divided between the two major parties. Democrats had less than a 4-percentage-point registration edge over Republicans as of Nov. 1.

On paper, Nevada looks like a solid-blue state. All but one of its statewide offices are held by Democrats; the party has majorities in both state legislative houses and in its congressional delegation. Democratic presidential candidates have won the state since 2008, when Barack Obama prevailed with a double-digit victory.

But Democrats’ winning streak in Nevada belies the grind-it-out nature of many of their victories. Powered by the vaunted “Reid machine” — the political turnout operation built by the late Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, the state’s longest-serving senator — Nevada only narrowly tilted in the party’s direction in the 2016 and 2020 presidential races. Cortez Masto won her first term in 2016 by under 3 percentage points.

Democrats have relied on working-class voters of color, especially union members, to bolster their margins in close elections. But the party’s struggles to win over people without college degrees, and a rightward drift among Latino voters, made Nevada especially challenging terrain.

The state’s workforce is transient, and many voters’ livelihoods depend on visitors eating, drinking, gambling and otherwise cavorting on the Las Vegas Strip and its environs — a tourism industry that has yet to fully rebound after being curtailed by the pandemic. The state’s unemployment rate and gas prices remain among the highest in the country.

“We’ve known this was going to be a tough campaign,” said Cortez Masto in a victory speech Sunday. “But like all of you, I’m a Nevadan, and I know what it takes to deliver for my own state. So when the national pundits said I couldn’t win, I knew Nevada would prove them wrong.”

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Cortez Masto, 58, a former state attorney general, is the daughter of a four-term Clark County commissioner. She made history in 2016 as the first Latina elected to the Senate.

Laxalt, 44, is a former state attorney general who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018. The grandson of a Nevada governor and senator who was a confidant of President Reagan, Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 campaign in the state. Trump campaigned with him on Nov. 5.

“This is another place where we saw Trump having more of an impact,” Taylor said, noting that Laxalt was part of the legal team that tried to help the former president overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump is poised to loom over the upcoming runoff as well, teasing a possible announcement for a 2024 presidential run next week.

Election denialism was unpopular with voters in Nevada; Jim Marchant, the GOP secretary of state candidate who was among the most vocal purveyors of voting conspiracies, lost to Democrat Cisco Aguilar, the AP reported Saturday evening.

But Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo successfully ousted Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak.

While Lombardo was endorsed by Trump and appeared with him at rallies, he also tried to distance himself from the former president at times, describing him as a “sound president” in a debate after declining to call Trump “great.”

Lombardo’s position as the sheriff of Clark County, the state’s population hub, also enabled him to run a campaign more focused on crime, a theme that Republican candidates across the country emphasized.

Times staff writers Nolan D. McCaskill in Washington and Hannah Fry in Los Angeles contributed to this report.