Control of the US Senate was still up in the air on Wednesday as several hotly contested seats remained uncalled and the fierce race between Georgia’s Democratic incumbent senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker moved to a runoff.
Warnock is narrowly leading Walker, but neither candidate will be able to clear the 50% threshold needed to win outright after the polls closed on Tuesday and avoid a 6 December runoff, said Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensperger.
The Associated Press has not yet called the Georgia race, though several major broadcast networks had projected a runoff before Raffensperger.
The Democrats entered the midterms with the slimmest of advantages in the Senate, which was evenly divided 50-50, though Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote in effect gives them control of the chamber.
Warnock won his current partial term over then Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler during a runoff in 2020 which helped decide the upper congressional chamber’s balance of power. Like Loeffler was, his opponent this time is backed by Donald Trump, though the ex-president’s former adviser Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday questioned whether he should campaign alongside Walker after other candidates that he endorsed underperformed or lost on Tuesday.
Warnock – a senior minister at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist church – unsuccessfully sought to win outright by portraying Walker as unfit for office, alluding to allegations that the Republican candidate was violent against his ex-wife and paid for two past sexual partners to terminate pregnancies despite publicly claiming to oppose abortion rights.
“I’ll work with anybody to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said as the prospect of a runoff with Walker came into focus.
Walker, for his part, aimed to cast Warnock as a rubber-stamp vote for the Joe Biden White House. Warnock, the former football star contended, has “forgotten about the people of Georgia”.
The contest between Warnock and Walker is one of a handful of unresolved midterm Senate races that could determine control of the chamber. Eyes across the nation were also on Nevada and Arizona on Wednesday.
In Nevada as of midday on Wednesday, with about 77% of the votes counted, Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto was trailing her Republican rival Adam Laxalt, 47.2% to 49.9%.
Cortez Masto is the first Latina senator. Laxalt is a former state attorney general who aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Both candidates have urged patience as residents wait to hear the outcome of the race and several other close elections, which could take days.
Democratic Senator from Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto arrives at a campaign event. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/EPA
“The votes are still being counted. We know this will take time and we won’t have more election results for several days,” Cortez Masto said at an election night gathering. “I am confident in the campaign that we have built to win.”
Laxalt said he was confident the results would favor him, telling supporters : “We are exactly where we want to be in this race.”
Meanwhile, Arizona’s Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly was ahead of his Republican challenger, Blake Masters, 51.4% to 46.4%, with 45% of the vote counted.
Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of ex-congressional representative Gabby Giffords, was elected to office in a 2020 special election that delivered both of Arizona’s Senate seats to Democrats for the first time in 70 years.
This year, he has a sizable edge among early votes cast in crucial Maricopa and Pima counties, but he is likely to see his lead tighten as more votes are tallied.
Masters, a venture capitalist endorsed by Trump, struggled throughout his campaign as he waffled between professing far-right ideologies and dialing back his most extreme views.
Once a Republican bastion, Arizona has recently become a closely watched swing state where close races can take weeks to tabulate. State law gives officials until 28 November to tally ballots.
Voters were expected to weigh economic concerns above most other issues. Phoenix, one of the fastest growing US cities, also has the highest inflation rate in the country. Kelly tried to distance himself from Joe Biden, whom six in 10 Arizona voters blame for inflation, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in the state.
The parties by Wednesday had split key races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
John Fetterman speaks during his midterm elections night party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Quinn Glabicki/Reuters
Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, won a Senate seat up for grabs in his state over the Trump-backed Republican television personality Dr Mehmet Oz. An outgoing Republican held the seat, representing a flip in the Democrats’ favor.
In the meantime, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson held off a challenge from his Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes.
As for the US House, many races there were still too close to call on Wednesday.
Vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger and Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin scored narrow wins, keeping the party’s hopes alive of either retaining control of the lower congressional chambers or limiting Republican gains significantly more than initially predicted.
Maanvi Singh and Dani Anguiano contributed reporting