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Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., addresses supporters at an election night event in Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 8, 2022.Alberto Mariani/The Associated Press

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly has won re-election, putting the Democrats one seat away from holding the upper chamber in the U.S. midterm elections and dealing another blow to former president Donald Trump’s far-right faction of the Republican Party.

With Mr. Kelly’s Friday victory over Blake Masters after three days of ballot-counting, the Democrats need to hold either Nevada, where the parties remain deadlocked in the vote count, or Georgia, which has a run-off election next month, to keep control of the Senate.

The result in Arizona continues the Democratic comeback in the midterms. While Republicans and some pollsters had predicted a “red wave” before the Nov. 8 vote, the Democrats have so far held their rivals to only modest gains – mostly by defeating a raft of high-profile Trump-backed candidates.

A key swing state that helped give Joe Biden the presidency in 2020, Arizona was a prime target of Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Both Mr. Masters and Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state, back the former president’s conspiracy theories.

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In a post containing a typo on his Truth Social website, Mr. Trump baselessly claimed that the Arizona Senate election had been rigged, too.

“They stole the Electron from Blake Masters,” he wrote. “Do Election over again!”

The White House said Mr. Biden, who is travelling abroad for a series of summit meetings this week, had called Mr. Kelly to congratulate him early Saturday. The President needs to keep control of the Senate to retain his ability to appoint federal judges and preserve at least some of his agenda.

Mr. Masters, a venture capitalist backed by billionaire Peter Thiel, supports cutting legal immigration and subscribes to the white nationalist “great replacement” theory, which baselessly holds that Democrats are trying to “replace” native-born Americans.

He also favours stopping U.S. aid to Ukraine and once floated the unsubstantiated notion that the FBI was somehow responsible for the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol.

Former astronaut Mr. Kelly first won his seat in a 2020 by-election to finish the term of John McCain, who died of brain cancer. He is married to Gabby Giffords, a former House representative who became a gun-control campaigner after surviving a mass shooting.

In Arizona, the gubernatorial race still remains undecided. Ms. Lake is nearly even in the vote count with Democrat Katie Hobbs, with hundreds of thousands of ballots still to be counted.

In the vote for secretary of state, Democrat Adrian Fontes, a Phoenix election official, defeated Republican Mark Finchem. A state legislator who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Finchem was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot and is a former member of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia.

Controlling the governments of swing states is a crucial goal of election deniers. Mr. Trump’s efforts in 2020 to reverse the presidential result foundered in part because state officials refused to help him. In Tuesday’s midterms, election deniers were defeated in gubernatorial races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, other states that will be key in the 2024 election.

Mr. Kelly’s victory gives the Democrats 49 seats in the 100-seat Senate. With Vice-President Kamala Harris being able to vote to break ties, the party needs only 50 seats for control. The Republicans, meanwhile, would need to win both Nevada and Georgia to take a 51-seat majority.

In Nevada, Republican former attorney-general Adam Laxalt is virtually tied in the vote count with incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. About 5 per cent of ballots still have to be tabulated.

In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock narrowly edged challenger Herschel Walker, but failed to win 50 per cent of the vote. Under that state’s rules, the pair must face off again on Dec. 6.

The lengthy vote-counting process in Arizona and Nevada has come under fire from both parties this week, particularly given that other populous swing states with tight races, such as Pennsylvania, mostly finished counting ballots on election night.

Ms. Lake and other election deniers have advocated moving the U.S. to a system of counting all ballots by hand. Ironically, however, such a development would make vote-counting take even longer than the current system, where most locales use tabulation machines to speed up the count.

Unlike in Canada, where elections typically feature a single race, U.S. elections entail voting on numerous federal, state and local offices simultaneously, with ballots sometimes running pages long.

Mr. Kelly ran in the midterms as a moderate senator, distancing himself from the unpopular Mr. Biden. But he has been a reliable vote for the White House’s agenda over the last two years. By contrast, his fellow Arizona Democratic Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, has helped tank some of Mr. Biden’s agenda, such as paid parental leave, by holding out for concessions.

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