As midterm count drags on, focus shifts to 2024 White House race

Control of the US Congress hung in the balance Thursday as ballot-counting dragged on and attention shifted to the next big election -- the 2024 presidential campaign -- and whether Americans could be faced with a Joe Biden-Donald Trump re-match.

With 209 seats so far, Republicans appear poised to secure a slim majority in the 435-seat House of Representatives, but control of the Senate may come down to an early December runoff in the southern state of Georgia.

Biden, who turns 80 this month, on Wednesday celebrated what he said was the success of his Democratic Party in fending off a predicted Republican landslide in a stormy economic climate.

"While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, it didn't happen," he said.

Biden, already America's oldest president, insisted that he plans to run for a second term in November 2024 despite calls by some members of the party for him to step aside and hand the reins over to a new generation of leaders.

He promised a final decision "early next year."

A drubbing would have surely raised questions about whether Biden should run again in 2024. But instead he did better than his two Democratic predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who both took a hammering in their first midterms.

The 76-year-old Trump has promised a "very big announcement" in Florida on Tuesday that was expected to be the launch of his official campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Trump's early entry into the race would appear designed to fend off possible criminal charges over taking top secret documents from the White House, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

It may also be intended to undercut his chief potential rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who emerged as one of the biggest winners from Tuesday's midterms.

"(Trump's) intention is to consolidate his support early and crowd out other potential candidates," said Jon Rogowski, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

- 'Ron De-Sanctimonious' -

The 44-year-old DeSantis, a Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer, notched up a nearly 20-point victory over his Democratic opponent in the Florida governor's race and took credit for a host of Republican victories in other races in the "Sunshine State."

"We not only won election, we have rewritten the political map," DeSantis said. "We've got so much more to do and I have only begun to fight."

While DeSantis has emerged as Trump's main rival for the nomination, the former president continues to dominate in the polls when Republicans are asked who they want to represent the party in the 2024 White House race.

Trump clearly has the Florida governor, a one-time ally, in his sights, referring to him by a derogatory nickname -- Ron De-Sanctimonious - and belittling his election victory.

"Shouldn't it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million?" Trump said on his Truth Social platform. "Just asking?"

Biden was asked by reporters on Wednesday about a Trump-DeSantis showdown.

"It'll be fun watching them take on each other," he said.

In the Senate, Democrat John Fetterman defeated Trump-endorsed candidate Mehmet Oz, seizing the Pennsylvania seat after the most expensive Senate race in US history.

The final makeup of the Senate now hangs on three seats: Arizona and Nevada, where the counting of votes could take several more days, and Georgia, where there will be a December 6 runoff between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and former American football star Herschel Walker.

Even with a slim majority in the House, Republicans would have significant oversight power, and have promised to use it to launch investigations into Biden and his allies.

cl/bgs