Updated: 11:33 p.m.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) held off a stiff challenge from Republican Jesse Kelly to win a third term in Congress.
The race was too close to call on election night, but Giffords led by nearly 4,000 votes Friday night after Tucson’s Pima County tabulated thousands of early votes dropped off on or just before Election Day.
“I am deeply honored that the people of Southern Arizona made their choice to return me to Congress to fight for their interests,” Giffords said in a statement. “Our victory was not an accident. We won because Democrats, Republicans and Independents pulled together in our campaign to focus on the real solutions to the obstacles that we face.”
Giffords led throughout the counting process, and her lead steadily grew to some 3,000 votes by Thursday. But after Pima County released its latest early vote count, the Associated Press declared Giffords’ new lead to be insurmountable.
Kelly conceded the race after the AP declared Giffords the winner.
“While we fell short here in District 8, Tuesday was a resounding victory for America,” Kelly said in a statement. “The citizens of this nation overwhelming chose limited government, fiscal sanity, and free market solutions. I am proud that we ran an honest and straightforward campaign. We are blessed by God to live in a nation where we get the government we deserve and the government that we chose. The voters of Southern Arizona have spoken and I respect their decision.”
In Pima, the district’s largest county, Giffords finished ahead of Kelly by about 8,500 votes. Kelly won Cochise and Pinal counties, while Giffords took Santa Cruz County by a small margin.
Kelly was one of many tea party candidates around the country to win the Republican nomination over an establishment candidate, defeating former state Sen. Jonathan Paton in August.
Some Republicans in the district preferred Kelly over Paton because he promised to go after Giffords, unlike her previous GOP opponents. Kelly targeted Giffords for supporting the Democratic agenda in Washington, D.C., but focused mostly on border security, a top issue in the Mexican border district.
“I would like to acknowledge my opponent’s hard-fought campaign,” Giffords said. “To Mr. Kelly’s supporters, I respect your opinions, admire your passion and share your love of our great state and country.”
In a news conference at her campaign office Friday evening, she acknowledged that she will return to a changed House. Republican victories in Tuesday’s midterm elections swept the Democrats out of power in the House for the 112th Congress.
“I’m not elated to be in the minority,” Giffords said, the Arizona Daily Star reported. “But my job isn’t to be in the majority. It’s to do the work, and I’m looking forward to doing that starting next week.”