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Cal Cunningham concedes Senator Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

Cal Cunningham, the Democrat challenging Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, conceded the race Tuesday after a prolonged vote count, as the outgoing president appeared to be heading for a narrow victory in crucial critical condition that would bolster the race. his party’s grip on the Senate.

Mr Tillis, 60, had been a prime target for Democrats this year, a decidedly unpopular first-term Republican in a fast-growing and increasingly competitive state. But he was able to capitalize on unexpected Republican strength in North Carolina to outrun Mr Cunningham, who was damaged by the late revelations of an extramarital affair.

With a large majority of votes counted, Mr Tillis led with just under 100,000 votes, according to Edison Research, in an election that drew more voters and more political spending than anything in the history of the state. Mr Tillis took the lead on election night and never lost it, but due to an influx of ballots in the mail the result was still unofficial on Thursday, long after the outbreak of the most other races.

In a preemptive victory speech last week, Mr Tillis said the North Carolinians “let everyone know that truth always matters, let everyone know that character still matters and let everyone know. world that keeping your promises always matters.

Mr Cunningham said in a statement Tuesday that the election results suggested “that deep political divisions remain in our state and our nation”. He added that he would “always be proud of the work we have done together to raise the voice of North Carolinians who feel left behind by our politics.

The result was a relief for Republicans, who saw the seat as a potential tipping point whose loss could have cost them control of the Senate. A victory for Mr Tillis would give Republicans 49 Senate seats compared to Democrats 48. Another race remained final in Alaska, where Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, is favored to win.

Either way, Mr Tillis’ apparent victory only raised the already high stakes for a pair of January Senate voting rounds in Georgia, where a clean sweep of Democrats could give them a working majority, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris entitled to vote for the tiebreaker.

Republicans see the result as a long blow to a state they have historically dominated, but both sides were already pouring tens of millions of dollars into races and fine-tuning posts to try and frame the holiday season fight.