MSNBC's Steve Kornacki explains where Arizona's key Senate and governor's races stand

Arizona is still counting votes from Tuesday's elections, and it will continue doing so for several days, releasing updates every evening until the roughly 550,000 outstanding ballots are tallied. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs padded their leads over Republicans Blake Masters and Kari Lake, respectively, with Thursday evening's drop. Kelly now leads by 5.6 percentage points while Hobbs leads by 1.4 points.

But the races, both of which have national ramifications, are too close to call.

Most of the outstanding votes are from Maricopa County — metro Phoenix, home to more than 60 percent of Arizona's voters — and Pima County, which includes Tucson. The big question is: What's in a batch of nearly 300,000 Maricopa County mail ballots returned on Election Day? Election officials will start releasing updates from that tranche on Friday.

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"The races will hinge on whether those late-counted ballots look more like 2018 or 2020," The Associated Press reports. In the 2018 election, mail ballots dropped off on Election Day skewed Democratic. But "if voting patterns from 2020 hold, and there are signs they will given Lake's strong support among voters who cast ballots in person on Election Day, she could surge into the lead," The Arizona Republic adds.

MSNBC's Steve Kornacki ran through where the race stands Thursday night, and he suggested Kelly is on track to win while the Hobbs-Lake race is anybody's guess.

If the partisan mix is more like 2020, Lake will probably overtake Hobbs and win, Kornacki suggests. But Austin Stumpf, a former data cruncher for the Arizona Democratic Party, did his own analysis of the outstanding votes and concluded Hobbs will probably win even if the remaining votes tilt Republican.

Whatever the outcome, the long vote count is fraying nerves and fueling unfounded conservative conspiracy theories from Lake and others. But Arizona has always taken a long time to process mail ballots, which have to be scrutinized by signature matches and to make sure the voter didn't also cast a ballot in person, AP reports. "This is how things work in Arizona and have for decades," said Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the Maricopa County board of supervisors. "We are doing what we can and still maintaining accuracy," he added, and will continue working 14 to 18 hours a day until all the votes are counted.

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