Sen. Mark Kelly reelected, defeats Republican Blake Masters in closely watched Senate race

Ronald J. Hansen
Arizona Republic

Sen. Mark Kelly defeated Republican Blake Masters in Arizona's U.S. Senate race after another key batch of ballots Friday night left the challenger still far apart in a contest that boosts Democrats' chances of retaining control of the chamber as well.

The Associated Press called the race, along with other major media outlets moments after Maricopa County posted unofficial numbers that showed Kelly, D-Ariz., widened his lead by another 8,000 votes instead of Masters significantly cutting into it. 

The AP made the call at 8:14 p.m. Friday.

Kelly, who cast himself as an independent-minded senator throughout the campaign, called the result the product of a cooperative spirit.

"Thank you to the people of Arizona for re-electing me to the United States Senate. From day one, this campaign has been about the many Arizonans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — who believe in working together to tackle the significant challenges we face," he said in a written statement.

"That’s exactly what I’ve done in my first two years in office and what I will continue to do for as long as I’m there. It’s been one of the great honors of my life to serve as Arizona’s Senator. I’m humbled by the trust our state has placed in me to continue this work."

There was no immediate statement on the result by Masters.

Even before the results were posted, Masters lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose key allied political action committee didn't spend in Arizona at all.

Election coverage: Live news updates | Arizona election results

During an appearance on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Fox News, Masters made clear he will not be an ally to the longtime GOP leader if he makes it to Washington.

In particular, Masters blamed McConnell for directing money to Alaska's Senate race featuring a pair of Republicans rather than spend in Arizona against a Democrat.

"But you know what else is incompetent, Tucker? The establishment. Right? The people who control the purse strings — Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell. McConnell decided to spend millions of dollars attacking a fellow Republican in Alaska instead of helping me defeat Sen. Mark Kelly. Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over. We'd be celebrating a Senate majority right now.

"My message to Republican senators, hopefully my future colleagues: Let's not vote Mitch McConnell into leadership. He doesn't deserve to be majority leader or minority leader."

Carlson asked Masters why McConnell would not spend in Arizona's tight race.

"I will leave it to the viewer to decide whether it is just malice or whether it's gross incompetence. But clearly Mitch McConnell cares about Mitch McConnell and less about a Senate majority or the people of America."  

Masters' comments mirrored a report earlier Friday on CNN, which said former President Donald Trump was pressing to oust McConnell from leadership. 

"In phone calls with allies, elected officials and incoming members of Congress, the former President has accused McConnell of spending recklessly in states where Republicans faced significant headwinds at the expense of candidates in more competitive contests," CNN reported.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced on the results to welcome Kelly back for a full term.

"Congratulations to Senator Mark Kelly on his victory. Mark’s life has been defined by service — as a combat pilot in the Navy, an astronaut with NASA, and now in the U.S. Senate. Arizona voters stood with Mark because he cuts through the political noise, solves problems and delivers results, no matter how difficult the mission. Arizona’s working families, and our country, will continue to be better off with Mark’s independent voice in the Senate," the committee said in a statement.

Both campaigns expected the final result to show a close contest in line with the toss-up that polling suggested by the end of the race.

The stakes of the race grew in the days since voting stopped. After a surprisingly strong showing by Democrats across the country, control of the Senate will now be determined by the outcome in Georgia and Nevada.

If Democrats win one of those two races, they will retain control.

In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., holds a narrow lead over Republican Herschel Walker in a race headed for a Dec. 6 runoff. That contest won't feature a Libertarian candidate who has garnered about 2% of the votes so far.

In Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt held a shrinking lead over Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., with many of the ballots still to be counted coming from Democrat-leaning Clark County. 

Masters entered the Friday count needing to emphatically win the "late earlies," mail-in ballots dropped off on Election Day.

Kelly's win extends Arizona's all-Democratic representation in the Senate to at least four years, the longest such run for the party since a 26-year streak that began in 1926 and continued until Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater won his first term in 1952. 

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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