Southwest: Two House Members Head to Senate

Posted November 7, 2012 at 4:00pm

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

All three Southwestern Senate races this election cycle were for open seats. When all was said and done, the parties held their own seats in all three contests. And in two of those races, current House Members vied to ascend to the other chamber.

Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake and New Mexico Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich were both successful in those efforts. Flake, who has a reputation in the House of sometimes trying the patience of his caucus, beat Democratic challenger and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, 50 percent to 45 percent, inheriting the seat of retiring Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R). Though at one point early in the cycle, the race appeared a lock for Flake, national Democrats spent heavily and Carmona made it close. There was some suspense Tuesday night as the results came in; during the past couple of weeks, the margin narrowed and political watchers saw a chance for a Democratic upset.

Heinrich’s win was less of a surprise, and he defeated former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, 51 percent to 45 percent, keeping retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s seat in Democratic hands.

With the tea party in 2010 claiming credit for seating conservative Senators such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Florida’s Marco Rubio, it was also able to sway the open Senate race in Texas for former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz. The contest was basically over when Cruz won his primary against popular Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and in a staunch Republican state, it’s no surprise he beat former state Rep. Paul Sadler (D), 57 percent to 41 percent, to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

There were more surprises on Wednesday morning when it came to results for some regional House races — or, in some cases, lack of results.

One of the biggest tossups of the election cycle was the race between former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and ex-Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker (R) to represent Arizona’s new 9th district. Sinema has the backing of EMILY’s List; Parker is one of a new generation of African-American Republican House contenders who calls himself a moderate. As of press time, the race was still too close to call.

Two other Arizona House races are pending verdicts due, in part, to close races and problems with provisional ballots cast in Pima County, which both districts partially encompass.

One race is for the 2nd district seat between Rep. Ron Barber (D) and retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally (R). At press time, McSally had a 1,312-vote lead over Barber, and Arizona law requires a recount when the winner’s margin is less than one-tenth of a point.

The 2nd district race had been expected to go to Barber, who worked for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) before she retired earlier this year to focus on her recovery. Barber won a special election to succeed her in June, and to many, he symbolized the former Congresswoman’s legacy of resilience — he was also among those injured during the January 2011 shootings at a constituent event in Tucson. And the district was made more Democratic in redistricting than it was when Barber won his special election victory over the summer.

Democrats added a pickup late today in Arizona’s 1st district, where former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is headed back to Congress. Kirkpatrick was ousted from her seat in the Republican wave of 2010 by Rep. Paul Gosar (R). Gosar opted to run for re-election in the 4th district, skipping a rematch, and he won his race against Democrat Johnnie Robinson, 67 percent to 28 percent. The Associated Press called the race for Kirkpatrick over former state Sen. Jonathan Paton late this afternoon.

Back in Texas, Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R) lost to state Rep. Peter Gallego (D), 50 percent to 46 percent, although Canseco had not conceded as of press time. Canseco came to office in the 2010 Republican wave, defeating then-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). But in a more neutral environment, Canseco fell short.

In Oklahoma, there was no suspense the morning after, and the entire delegation will be Republican for only the second time in state history. In the only somewhat competitive race in the 2nd district, plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin (R) beat former Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Wallace (D), 57 percent to 38 percent. The seat in the district known as “Little Dixie” had been held by moderate Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, who is retiring.