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With More Votes Counted, Democrats Extend Their Gains Substantially


As we're seeing in key midterm races in states like Arizona and Florida, not all the votes were counted on election night. Just in the last couple of hours, Democrats notched a big win in Arizona. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has won the Senate race over Republican Martha McSally according to The Associated Press. That comes as Democrats have extended their gains in the House since last Tuesday when it looked like they had gained just enough seats to pick up the House. NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us to explain why. Hi, Domenico.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with Arizona and this late call - a Democrat elected to replace Republican Jeff Flake who's retiring. How big a deal is this Arizona win for Democrats?

MONTANARO: It's pretty big deal because Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally were locked in a pretty tight race for the - for months frankly. And now a week after Election Day when on Election Day Martha McSally, the Republican was leading, suddenly now after a week with all of these votes that had not been counted yet - these provisional ballots, absentee ballots, early votes that were - had come in on Election Day - all of those, some 300,000 or more, now have tipped the race to Kyrsten Sinema. And The Associated Press has called it for Sinema. That's big because when you look at the landscape of the Senate, this means that Republicans - the best they can do, even if they win that recount in Florida, is a net of plus two seats in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: Well, plus 2 is a gain for Republicans, but they had an overwhelmingly favorable map. What does this look like right now?

MONTANARO: Yeah, frankly, if you can't gain more seats than that when you have the best map that you're looking at since the direct election of senators, then that tells you what kind of blue wave it really was on Election Day as people went out to vote. The fact of the matter is Democrats are looking at 32 seats that they've picked up in the House. That's likely to extend to 36, maybe 37 seats. That is a big blue wave - no doubt about it.

SHAPIRO: OK, so let's talk a little more about the House because, again, on Tuesday night, it looked like Democrats had just barely picked up enough seats...


SHAPIRO: ...To control the chamber. That outlook has changed.

MONTANARO: It absolutely has. And at this point, I mean, there's no way you can look at what happened Tuesday and following and say that Democrats didn't have a good 2018 election. You know, I know Democrats and liberals were upset because they feel like they lost some of these marquee governor's races, possibly Florida, possibly Georgia. Both those races haven't been called by The Associated Press yet, but the Democrat is trailing. They didn't do as well as they would have liked - and that big Texas Senate race with Beto O'Rourke that Democrats so wanted. So they felt a little deflated.

But frankly, they should be really cheering what's happening here because it's going to be a big deal for Democrats to take - have taken over the House, to trim their minority in the Senate so that it's not such a big majority for Republicans where they can't possibly take back the Senate in 2020. Right now Democrats look like they have a shot in 2020 anyway, and that's what they wanted from the beginning of the cycle - was to stay within striking distance in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: Give us a little historical context for how big a night election night and, I guess we should now say, the week following was for Democrats.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, these 32 seats in the in the House and possibly up to 36, 37 - this is going to be the biggest wave, the biggest number of seats that they've picked up since the - in the post-Watergate era. You know, there hasn't been an election where Democrats have gotten that many in a midterm. You know, in 2006 - a lot of people look at that as the last big wave for Democrats when they took over the House, and the Iraq War was spiraling out of control. Democrats only picked up 30 seats in the House. So to be able to do what they did is a big deal for Democrats.

SHAPIRO: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 12, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
In an earlier version of this report, we mistakenly said that Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., was first elected to the House in 2010. In fact, she was first elected in 2016.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.