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.
"I feel good for the country. Because so many people worried — I did — about this democracy," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference late Saturday. "America showed that we believe in our democracy. That the roots of our democracy are deep and strong. And that it will prevail as long as we fight for it."
He added that Republicans were hampered by "flawed challengers who had no faith in democracy, no fidelity to the truth or honor.”
Masto's victory means Democrats will hold the Senate regardless of the outcome of Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff election, when Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will face each other again after neither cleared the 50% threshold required under state law.
A Walker win would keep the Senate 50-50, where Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote for Democrats.
A Warnock victory would make it 51-49, giving Democrats one extra vote in a chamber where they have often been stymied by internal dissent from members like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
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.
“I feel good and I’m looking forward to the next couple years," Biden told reporters, reacting to the Senate result at close to 11 a.m. local time in Cambodia where the president is attending a summit of world leaders. He credited the quality of the candidates and said they were all "running on the same program."
Addressing whether Democrats can keep control of the House, Biden said it's "perilously close," adding, "we can win it, but whether we're going to win it remains to be seen."
The White House said Biden called first Cortez Masto and then Schumer from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to congratulate them.
Republicans headed into Tuesday's election confident a "red wave" would sweep them into power in the Senate and give them a commanding majority in the House.
As it became clear that neither would materialize, conservative leaders and media figures began pointing fingers and blaming each other for the surprising defeat — with Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy all facing backlash.
"The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new," Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted after it became clear his party had lost hope of retaking the Senate.
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.
Republicans needed to net only a single seat to retake the Senate.
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.
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."