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Democrat Mark Kelly pulls off Senate win in Arizona

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly spent Saturday morning celebrating. The Associated Press called his Senate race in his favor after days of vote counting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK KELLY: Thank you, everybody, for being here. What a great day today.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo is with us now from Phoenix to tell us more. Ximena, thanks so much for joining us.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: All right. Ximena, the election was Tuesday. Today is Saturday. It took several days, but according to the AP, whose race calls we follow, Kelly has won this race. Give us the numbers. How did he pull out the win?

BUSTILLO: Well, there are still outstanding votes, but right now, Mark Kelly is up by a little more than five percentage points, which is more than 120,000 votes. He took the lead in counting earlier this week. And GOP opponent Blake Masters has not made up the difference. Masters received the Trump endorsement, but Kelly's win is so far showing that he may have gained a greater margin than the last time that he won. His strategy was to lean into the moderate and independent voters, particularly in Maricopa County, an area that includes left-leaning Phoenix, but also has Republican-leaning areas that have historically swayed the county.

The senator first came into office in 2020 during a special election to fill the seat of the late Republican Senator John McCain. And Kelly has always kept that in mind during his campaigning. He even held a Republicans for Kelly event with former Senator John McCain staffers and his son Jack McCain. And the late senator was also a key focus of Kelly's celebrations on Saturday. He said the senator did not work to divide the people of Arizona.

KELLY: John McCain didn't do that. Lately, we've had some folks running for office that it became a thing about them against us. And that's not the way the world works, and it shouldn't.

MARTIN: So I'm glad you mentioned that Senator Kelly's last race was also a close one and that it did take several days to count as well. Is this typical for Arizona? I mean, it seems like it is. So if that's the case, then I don't know. This one seemed particularly dramatic this time around. Do you agree?

BUSTILLO: Yeah, it definitely did. And a part of that is because with Kelly's win, there are 47 Democratic senators in the incoming Congress, as well as two independents who caucus with the Democrats. So control of the Senate is the biggest question. More broadly, vote tabulation in Arizona is always a long game. Each county has their own method, and in Maricopa County, early ballots are what took the longest to tabulate a record number of voters - 290,000, in fact - voted on Election Day by taking the ballot that they received in the mail and dropping it into a box. It will be days before votes are all counted. Opponent Blake Masters said in a statement on Saturday that he's waiting until all the votes are counted before congratulating Kelly on a win.

MARTIN: As we've already said, Mark Kelly is one of those, you know, final pieces of the puzzle if Democrats are going to hold the Senate in the upcoming Congress. So before we let you go, Ximena, tell us about where the big picture stands now.

BUSTILLO: We are still waiting on results from Nevada and Georgia. Nevada Senate race will be decided in the coming days as well, while Georgia's heads to a runoff on December 6. If Senator Catherine Cortez Masto wins Nevada, Democrats have the majority, and Georgia, it's just a bonus. If Senator Cortez Masto loses, Democrats must win in Georgia's runoff to maintain control of the Senate. As for the House, there's still no clear winner, though things continue to look good for Republicans to take the majority. How slim that majority will be, that's what we're not sure yet. Here in Arizona, there are still two outstanding House races, which are very close, and that's true of races all over, especially in California. So it's more of a hurry up and wait before we know exactly who might hold the gavel in the House at the start of the 118th Congress in January.

MARTIN: That's NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo. Ximena, thank you so much.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
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