The nation’s eyes are on Arizona and its hotly contested U.S. Senate race, seen as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats fighting to retake control of the chamber and challenge President Donald Trump’s agenda on everything from illegal immigration to taxes and trade.
The open Senate race is among the nation’s most competitive, and is consequential for a state that is on the cusp of electing its first woman senator.
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a two-term congresswoman from Tucson, defeated her Republican rivals, former state Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Fountain Hills, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State.
Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who has served three terms and is from Phoenix, also defeated her rival, Deedra Abboud, a progressive activist and attorney from Scottsdale.
The Associated Press called the races for McSally and Sinema.
President Donald Trump, whose presence has loomed over the Senate race, congratulated McSally in a late-night tweet while bashing U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who announced his retirement last fall.
“Martha McSally, running in the Arizona Primary for U.S. Senate, was endorsed by rejected Senator Jeff Flake….and turned it down — a first! Now Martha, a great U.S. Military fighter jet pilot and highly respected member of Congress,WINS BIG. Congratulations, and on to November!”
With McSally and Sinema the apparent nominees, Arizona voters are on track to elect their first woman senator.
Either party has a good chance of winning, analysts say, worrying Republicans while giving Democrats credible hope of gaining a statewide foothold.
ELECTION RESULTS: Live results for federal, state and city offices in Arizona
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, died Saturday. Gov. Doug Ducey will appoint a Republican to succeed him.
That the seat being vacated by retiring Flake is even in play is reflective of a traditionally red state trending toward purple at a level not seen in recent memory.
Arizona voters have not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Dennis DeConcini, an old-fashioned centrist, who won the seat in 1976 after defeating Republican Sam Steiger for the open seat and served three terms.
“It’s crucial to Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate. It’s just hard to see how they would do it without Arizona,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.
“If somehow they take control of the Senate, Democrats would control the confirmation process, making it extremely difficult for Trump to get his way.”
Kelli Ward concedes defeat to primary challenger Martha McSally during an election night party in Scottsdale, Arizona Aug. 28, 2018.
Outside groups wage $8M ad war
In Arizona’s race, Democrats, Republicans and their well-financed allies are clawing for any advantage.
Outside groups allied with the top-tier candidates have waged an $8 million ad war in the primary election alone to promote and attack the candidates on health care, character and border security.
Sinema noted Tuesday night that Arizonans “are also reflecting on Senator John McCain’s lifetime of service and the example he has set for us” and said “it’s up to all of us to follow his lead of always putting country over party.”
“Tonight, we look ahead and continue fighting to uphold the values we all share: a fairshot at the American Dream and an unwavering commitment to the Arizona we love,” Sinema said in a written victory statement. “I’m grateful to everyone who voted today, and now, our work continues. We will spend these next ten weeks earning the vote of Arizonans across our state. Together, we can make sure that all Arizonans have an independent voice in the U.S. Senate.”
Arpaio, McSally and Ward battled fiercely for the Republican nomination.
In her victory remarks as prepared for delivery, McSally talked up her relationship with Trump.
“On issue after issue, by working together, we have shown an ability to solve problems and get thing done for Arizona. I have worked closely with President Trump to cut taxes for working families, to create jobs, to secure the border, to honor our veterans … and when I am in the Senate, I will work with him to confirm judges who uphold the Constitution,” McSally said.
McSally appeared emotional as she took the stage. She began her remarks by honoring Sen. John McCain and sharing personal recollections of working with him to, among other things, save the A-10. After a moment of silence, she said the general election will be a “choice between a patriot and a protester.”
The general-election race between her and Sinema, she said, will come to “a choice between a doer and a talker … between a patriot and a protester … between a career fighter pilot and a career politician — between proven grit and Hollywood glitz.”
Arpaio told The Arizona Republic he was disappointed with the results, but would accept the decision by voters. He offered to help McSally in the general election if she wanted it.
“I’ll still be working to support President Trump,” he said.
Ward was delivering a concession speech around the same McSally accepted her nomination. In the final days of the race, she drew heavy fire for suggesting an announcement by the McCain family that the late senator would be ending medical treatment was timed to harm her candidacy. She did not fully apologize for her remarks.
“The results tonight didn’t turn out as we would have liked, but I’ll remain forever grateful to the thousands of supporters and volunteers who helped carry our message to the people of Arizona,” Ward said. “It was your unyielding belief in our campaign that made it all worth it”
James Elliott, a U.S. Army combat veteran from south Phoenix, said he hopes McSally will help build Trump’s border wall.
“I believe that (Senators) McCain and Flake have done absolutely nothing for Arizona and I’m hoping that she will do actually something for Arizona,” said Elliott, 54.
“First and foremost the wall. I like the fact that she backs up the president. I’m a big supporter of Donald Trump and I’ve been there since he first came down the escalator.”
Elliott said he hopes she is being authentic about her support of Trump.
“I’m going to put my faith and my vote … in for Martha McSally and I’m really hoping that my vote counts and hope that I get what I’m voting for.”
MIDTERM ELECTIONS: 1-seat swing in Arizona could change Congress
Ken Roth, a real estate developer from Paradise Valley, said McSally’s credentials make her the best person to follow in the footsteps of former U.S. Sens. Barry Goldwater, John McCain and Jon Kyl.
“She’s got the talent and she’s certainly got the brains,” said Roth, 74, adding that he has supported her since the earliest days of her political ambitions.
Roth said that drive will help McSally win over Sinema in the November general election.
“You can’t uncover the fact that she is a Democrat,” he said. “I certainly think Martha just has a lot more to offer, just given her training.”
Sinema has been running as an independent candidate, free of partisan affiliations.
All three of the GOP candidates leaned into their relationships with Trump, who didn’t endorse any of them before voters weighed in. The president is considering a swing through Arizona in the days after the election to rally voters behind McSally.
All three candidates ran to the right on border security and issues involving illegal immigration. Ward and Arpaio have accused McSally of moving from the center to the right to appeal to Republican base voters who might view her as too lenient on the red-meat issue, an attack she has dismissed.
A win by any of the Republican candidates would have solidified the Arizona Republican Party’s attachment to the president. That marks a contrast with the combative stance that Flake has taken with the president over his political and personal actions.
“That would be a significant intra-party consequence,” said Richard Herrera, associate professor of political science at Arizona State University.
Running like a 3rd-party candidate
On the Democratic ticket, Abboud, a progressive activist and attorney, ran a long-shot campaign against presumed front-runner Sinema for the party’s nomination.
Abboud has emerged as a well-liked candidate among the Democratic base, but her chances of pulling off an upset were slim. She had shunned corporate donations, so had virtually no campaign money.
Sinema, a deft fundraiser, is running her campaign more like a third-party candidate than Democratic contender, frustrating some Democratic voters who want her to vocally oppose Trump and GOP leadership.
The strategy allows her room to pick up independent voters and possibly disenchanted Republicans who connect with her style and political messages.
The election of a Democrat could signal a shift in long-term partisan voting trends statewide, Herrera said.
“Certainly a Democratic candidate winning a prominent statewide race would energize Democrats across the state and could shift more independent voters,” he added.
Senate primary results
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