SUS­PENSE BUILDS

As re­sults up­date, Sinema takes tight lead over McSally

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Yvonne Wingett Sanchez Ari­zona Repub­lic

Sus­pense and un­cer­tainty now hang over the su­per tight Ari­zona U.S. Se­nate race, which has Demo­crat Kyrsten Sinema and Repub­li­can can­di­date Martha McSally sep­a­rated by just 9,610 votes, ac­cord­ing to up­dated elec­tion re­sults.

The re­sults were up­dated af­ter 5 p.m. Thurs­day, the first time since Elec­tion Night that the tal­lies had been sub­stan­tially up­dated.

Sinema was lead­ing as of 6:20 p.m. She had 932,870 votes, rep­re­sent­ing 49.10 per­cent of the to­tal re­ported votes while McSally had 923,260 votes, or 48.59 per­cent. Green Party can­di­date An­gela Green had earned 43,838.

It’s too soon to know who will ul­ti­mately pre­vail. With tens of thou­sands of out­stand­ing bal­lots, the cam-

paign man­agers for both teams con­veyed con­fi­dence, with each say­ing the re­main­ing bal­lots would fa­vor their can­di­date.

Af­ter Sinema’s lead widened Thurs­day, McSally’s cam­paign man­ager, Jim Bognet, pre­dicted Sinema’s lead would “dis­ap­pear.” In a writ­ten state­ment, he said out­stand­ing bal­lots in Mari­copa County ar­rived on days when early GOP turnout was higher than the votes re­flected in Thurs­day’s re­sults.

“With half a mil­lion bal­lots left to count we re­main con­fi­dence that as votes con­tinue to come in from coun­ties across the state, Martha McSally will be elected Ari­zona’s next Sen­a­tor,” Bognet said in the state­ment.

Sinema and McSally are no strangers to the drama sur­round­ing ex­tended vote counts.

On Elec­tion Night 2012, Sinema was se­questered in a ho­tel room with a dozen or so sup­port­ers, friends and cam­paign staffers in a makeshift war room.

It was her first bid for Congress and her cam­paign didn’t have the money to splurge on a busi­ness suite. The bed ate up most of the floor space, strewn with pa­pers, charg­ing cords and lap­top com­put­ers.

The early elec­tion re­sults dropped at 8 p.m. She was ahead of Repub­li­can chal­lenger Ver­non Parker, just not as much as she had hoped to be in the race for Ari­zona’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, a newly cre­ated seat evenly di­vided be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats.

Sinema buzzed with ner­vous en­ergy and set­tled in for a roller-coaster week.

Her lead be­gan to grow over the course of the few days, as the Mari­copa County recorder’s count­ing of so-called late early bal­lots be­gan to post, re­called her for­mer cam­paign man­ager, Rodd McLeod.

As she awaited the fi­nal re­sults, Sinema threw a party for the vol­un­teers and staff who worked on her cam­paign and worked the phones, thank­ing donors and sup­port­ers.

“She un­der­stands there’s a big job to do count­ing th­ese bal­lots,” McLeod said. “You’re still work­ing, and you’re ob­serv­ing the bal­lot count, but you’re wait­ing. You’re let­ting peo­ple know you ap­pre­ci­ate their hard work.”

On the Fri­day af­ter Elec­tion Day, she got a con­ces­sion call from her GOP ri­val.

The can­di­dates and their Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can al­lies have built out so­phis­ti­cated mod­els that an­a­lyze the ge­og­ra­phy of out­stand­ing bal­lots, past vot­ing be­hav­iors, and vot­ers’ party af­fil­i­a­tions.

But they are rid­ing the same emo­tional roller-coaster as the es­ti­mated 2.3 mil­lion vot­ers who will have de­cided the race.

And then there are the le­gal chal­lenges, which could pro­long the re­sult for weeks as ei­ther side works to dis­qual­ify or add vot­ers to the rolls in the event the fi­nal mar­gin reaches be­low 5,000 or so.

Al­ready, Repub­li­cans were in court Thurs­day to dis­pute a prac­tice used by cer­tain coun­ties to ver­ify mis­matched sig­na­tures of early bal­lots.

About 90 min­utes be­fore state elec­tions of­fi­cials were sched­uled to post an up­dated bal­lot tally, Sinema’s cam­paign man­ager, An­drew Pi­att, sought to man­age the pub­lic’s ex­pec­ta­tions about Thurs­day’s post­ing. In a state­ment, he pre­dicted that if all votes are counted, Sinema will be the next sen­a­tor.

“Ari­zo­nans must have faith that their votes are counted, and we are work­ing dili­gently to en­sure that count pro­ceeds in a fair, trans­par­ent, and timely man­ner that vot­ers can trust, Pi­att wrote in a state­ment. “To that end, we have spent the hours since the polls closed track­ing down bal­lots and know there are more than 600,000 left to be counted across the state.

“We also know that when the Mari­copa County Recorder re­leases its first batch of bal­lots this evening, there will still be ap­prox­i­mately half a mil­lion votes left to count,” Pi­att con­tin­ued. “Once they are counted, we are con­fi­dent that Kyrsten Sinema will be the next Sen­a­tor for the state of Ari­zona.”

McSally, a for­mer U.S. Air Force com­bat pi­lot, has also been here be­fore.

In 2012, she lost a pri­mary elec­tion to for­mer Marine Jesse Kelly to run in a spe­cial elec­tion to fill the re­main­ing months of for­mer Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords’ term in Congress.

Two years later, she edged out Demo­cratic Rep. Ron Bar­ber by only 167 votes to win the Tuc­son-based 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict — but only af­ter a re­count and le­gal fights, which she has fre­quently talked about on the cam­paign trail in her race for the Se­nate.

That race, like the Se­nate race, was a key bat­tle­ground for out­side spend­ing groups and blis­ter­ing at­tack ads against both can­di­dates.

In the end, McSally unseated Bar­ber by a ra­zor-thin 167 votes out of an es­ti­mated 220,000 cast.

With tens of thou­sands of out­stand­ing bal­lots, the cam­paign man­agers for both teams con­veyed con­fi­dence, with each say­ing the re­main­ing bal­lots would fa­vor their can­di­date.

TOM TINGLE/THE REPUB­LIC

Mari­copa County Recorder Adrian Fontes has said that he fa­vors an ex­tended pe­riod af­ter Elec­tion Day to ver­ify the va­lid­ity of bal­lots if it means that more valid vot­ers are ul­ti­mately heard.

TOM TINGLE/THE REPUB­LIC

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (left) and Rep. Martha McSally are no strangers to the drama sur­round­ing ex­tended vote counts. In 2012, Sinema ini­tially led chal­lenger Ver­non Parker by a smaller-than-ex­pected mar­gin. In 2014, McSally won her Tuc­son-based seat by only 167 votes over then-Rep. Ron Bar­ber.

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