Battle for power in Congress goes down to the wire

The fight for control of Congress was too close to call early Wednesday morning as both parties racked up high-profile wins in key battlegrounds.

Democrats appeared on track to outperform expectations in their bid to maintain their House majority, even if Republicans looked poised to flip the lower chamber. Several endangered Democratic incumbents scored key victories despite facing brutal political headwinds in the lead-up to Election Day. As of early Wednesday morning, only one Democratic incumbent, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), had lost her reelection bid.

In the battle for the Senate, Democrats notched at least two big wins as Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) defeated her Republican challenger Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and Democrat John Fetterman dispatched a challenger from Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, giving Democrats a GOP-held Senate seat.

Yet control of both chambers of Congress remained up for grabs as election officials across the country continued to count votes.

In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) holds a slim lead over his Republican opponent, former NFL star Herschel Walker, though he remains the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. If neither candidate wins a majority of the vote in Tuesday’s election, the race will head to a second vote on Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, in Arizona and Nevada, Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), are outpacing their Republican rivals, but their victories are still far from assured.

What was clear as of Wednesday morning, however, was that the so-called “red wave” that Republicans have forecast for months had so far failed to materialize. While the GOP still appears to be on track to at least win the five seats it needed to recapture the House majority, some in the party began to cast doubt on the notion of an electoral blowout.

“I think we pick up 10-to-15 seats in the House,” one Republican operative familiar with House races said. “It’s looking a lot more, let’s say modest, than I was hoping for.”

Republicans have long been favored to recapture the House. Not only was the party slated to pick up a handful of seats thanks to the decennial redistricting process alone, but the party in power – in this case, the Democrats – almost always loses ground in Congress in midterm elections.

And in the lead-up to Election Day, voters appeared poised to blame Democrats for the nation’s biggest challenges, including stubbornly high inflation and perceived rising crime.

Control of the Senate, on the other hand, was always expected to be a more even fight. While Republicans need to net only one seat this year to recapture the majority, they’re also defending more territory than Democrats.

At the same time, Republicans in key Senate battlegrounds nominated several untested candidates – Walker and Oz among them – who often struggled to keep pace with their Democratic rivals on the campaign trail. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) downplayed expectations for Republican Senate hopefuls earlier this year, saying that “candidate quality” could affect the outcome of their races.

Of course, Republicans still notched key wins heading into Wednesday. In Florida, once the nation’s premier swing state, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) easily won their reelection bids and even carried Miami-Dade County, a longtime Democratic stronghold in South Florida.

And while the Senate race in Georgia remains unsettled, Gov. Brian Kemp cruised to victory over his Democratic arch-nemesis Stacey Abrams, clinching a second term in the governor’s mansion.

There are still plenty of key battlegrounds that remain too close to call. But some Democrats were breathing a sigh of relief early Wednesday as vulnerable incumbents like Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Marcy Captur (D-Ohio) beat back fierce Republican challenges. The party also succeeded in ousting longtime Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).

“I think we still have a fighting chance,” one Democratic strategist said in a text late Tuesday. “Can’t believe I’m saying that.”

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