With control of the US Senate on the line, Nevada’s protracted ballot count ground through a fourth day as election officials tallied thousands of votes ahead of a Saturday deadline to accept finally arriving postal votes.
Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was running barely behind Republican Adam Laxalt, but with the remaining tens of thousands of uncounted ballots mainly coming from the state’s urban cores, her campaign expressed optimism she could overtake her challenger.
Mr Laxalt, meanwhile, has steadily predicted he will stay in the lead as the count drags on.
“We are doing everything in our power to move ballots forward just as quickly as we can,” Joe Gloria, the registrar in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, said at a press conference on Friday.
Mr Gloria’s office posted tabulations on Friday evening for more than 27,000 ballots that put Ms Cortez Masto within a few hundred votes of Mr Laxalt, with an estimated 23,000 more votes in heavily Democratic Clark County yet to be tallied.
With the Senate evenly divided, Nevada is one of two undetermined races that will determine which party controls the chamber, after Democratic Senator Mark Kelly won his bid for re-election in Arizona late on Friday.
If Democrats win Nevada, they will have control even before a December run-off in Georgia between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. If Republicans win Nevada, control of the Senate will be decided in Georgia.
In another key race, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak lost his re-election bid to his Republican challenger, sheriff Joe Lombardo, on Friday night.
Even after the counts are finished this weekend, voters have until the end of the day Monday to “cure”, or fix clerical problems with, their postal ballots, enabling those to be added into the final tally.
Mr Gloria said there are 9,600 ballots in the “cure” stage in Clark County, home to three-quarters of the state’s population.
Nevada, a closely divided swing state, is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, a working class state whose residents have been especially hard hit by inflation and other economic turmoil
Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about five in 10 called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters.
Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly eight in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor.
Only about two in 10 called the economy excellent or good.
And about a third of voters said their families are falling behind financially.
But that did not necessarily translate into anger at President Joe Biden or his party.
About half considered inflation the most important issue facing the US, but they were evenly split over whether they think higher prices are due to Biden’s policies or factors outside his control.
Nevada is also a famously live-and-let-live state, and Ms Cortez Masto and other Democrats made preserving abortion rights a centrepiece of their campaigns.
According to VoteCast, seven in 10 wanted the procedure kept legal in all or most cases.
Republicans, however, relentlessly hammered the economic argument, contending it was time for a leadership change.
They also sought to capitalize on lingering frustrations about pandemic shutdowns that devastated Las Vegas’ tourist-centric economy in 2020.
Democratic governor Steve Sisolak was trailing his challenger, Republican Joe Lombardo, on Thursday though that race, too, was too early to call.
On Thursday morning, The Associated Press declared Republican Stavros Anthony the winner in the lieutenant governor race, while Republican Andy Mathews was elected state controller.
The state’s lone Republican congressman, Mark Amodei, easily won re-election in his mostly rural district in northern Nevada.
The AP has not yet called winners in the state’s three other congressional district seats, currently held by Democrats.