Kirkpatrick, Barber in Close Congressional Races
Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber find themselves in the familiar territory of finishing election night not knowing if they won or lost their congressional races.
In a replay of the 2012 election, the Democratic incumbents were in too-close-to-call races in their respective swing districts.
Kirkpatrick was faring much better than Barber, holding a nearly 5-point lead late Tuesday night over Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin in a district that stretches from Flagstaff to the Tucson suburbs, including the Navajo Nation.
Barber and Republican challenger Martha McSally were separated by less than 40 votes, with the GOP candidate holding the slight lead. Votes are still being tallied, and it could be days before a winner is declared in the Tucson-area 2nd Congressional District.
The two ran against each other in 2012, and Barber squeaked out the victory over the former military pilot by about 2,500 votes after days of counting. When he had the lead earlier in the night Tuesday, Barber expressed confidence that the margin "will hold."
“Here we are again,” he told supporters Tuesday night. “We are still in a position like we’ve been in before. We’ve been in this rodeo before, as you know.”
Earlier in the evening, McSally told supporters it could be a long night in which some might not be able to stay as votes were counted.
"My training as a fighter pilot has helped," she said. "I got myself to be ready to accept any outcome."
On a night that was unfavorable for Democrats nationally, Kirkpatrick was holding strong in her 1st Congressional District. She drove all over the Navajo Nation on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to get out the vote.
Kirkpatrick’s campaign sounded an upbeat tone, confident that their dogged work in getting out the vote on the Navajo Nation during the final days of the race will make the difference.
Tobin was less confident about the outcome.
"Clearly a large enough lead like that, and we're not exactly sure how many ballots are left, still makes it very difficult to overcome that," Tobin said early Wednesday. "And if we come up short, I'll stand by Ann Kirkpatrick and I'll stand by new Gov. Ducey and I'll do whatever I can to be helpful."
The two national parties and outside groups spent heavily on the races as Republicans hoped to pad their advantage in the U.S. House by taking out two vulnerable Democratic incumbents. But Democrats fought hard to keep the seats. Kirkpatrick aggressively courted the Navajo vote, a crucial bloc in her district.
Democrats feared few tribal members would vote because the tribe’s presidential race was postponed. But the Coconino County recorder said Tuesday that voter turnout on the Navajo Nation was higher than expected.
Republicans sought to tie Kirkpatrick to President Barack Obama, who ran a radio spot on Navajo radio urging tribal members to vote. Democrats attacked Tobin for his votes in the Legislature on education and child welfare spending, while pouncing on controversial remarks he made about Social Security.
Political analysts say the winner will come down to whether Native Americans turned out to vote. The congressional district is about 25 percent Native American, and they typically vote Democrat.
In the Tucson area, Barber and McSally squared off on issues including military spending and guns. Barber is a former aide to one-time Rep. Gabby Giffords, and the two were wounded in a mass shooting outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011. Giffords ran an ad supporting Barber as her gun organization took an active role in the midterm races.
Arizona voters decided a total of nine congressional districts on Tuesday. Incumbents held on to their seats in five districts, while Democrat Ruben Gallego easily won in a Phoenix district to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor. In the Phoenix area, first-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema trounced Republican Wendy Rogers in a victory that she said was a testament to her keeping a positive message and focusing on helping veterans.
Democrats entered the day with a 5-4 advantage in the Arizona delegation.
The Associated Press, Laurel Morales and Kate Sheehy contributed to this report.
Updated 11/5/14 at 2 a.m.