WASHINGTON — Blake Masters wasn't posting the numbers of votes he needed in Election Day ballots as they were counted and released by officials in Arizona's biggest county.
The Republican challenger was significantly outpacing Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly only in a small number of vote batches coming in from Maricopa County; in nearly all other cases, Kelly had a slight or substantial edge.
That’s what led AP to call the race for Kelly after Maricopa County released another batch of 80,000 votes late Friday.
Now elected to his first full term, Kelly has been one of the most successful Democrats to run statewide in Arizona. In 2020, he won a 2020 special election by more than 2 percentage points over Republican incumbent Martha McSally.
There were some Republican activists in Arizona who advocated that voters intentionally wait until Election Day itself to drop off their ballots. Some of this push was based on unfounded theories that fraudsters could manipulate voting systems and rig results for Democrats, once they had seen how many GOP votes had been returned early.
Experts had also warned that such a last-minute crush of ballots could end up creating delays that can ultimately be used by a bad actor to undermine confidence in the election. There were some hang ups this year. About a quarter of voting centers in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous, had a printing problem Tuesday, in which marks weren’t showing up correctly when voters showed up to print out their ballots. Officials said the problem was addressed within hours and everyone was able to vote.
Arizona has a long political history of voting Republican, but changing demographics have made the state friendlier to Democrats.
With Kelly's victory, the Senate remained evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with two races — in Nevada and Georgia — yet to be decided.
With Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, Democrats can retain control of the Senate by winning either the Nevada race, which remains too early to call, or next month’s runoff in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Republicans now must win both those races to take the majority. If Republicans pick up the Nevada seat, overall control in the Senate would yet again come down to the Georgia runoff, as it did two years ago.
AP has not made a call in Arizona's governor's race between Republican Kari Lake and Democrat Katie Hobbs.
RELATED: Arizona 2022 election updates: Around 7% of in-person Election Day votes went into 'box 3,' Maricopa County officials say