Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has made history by becoming the first woman elected to represent Arizona in the Senate. She defeated Republican Rep. Martha McSally after several days of ballot counting.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Sinema led McSally 50 percent to 48 percent when The Associated Press called the race six days after Election Day.
Sinema’s victory also marks the first time in 30 years that a Democrat has won a Senate seat in Arizona.
Sinema said in a victory speech Monday night that she would focus on finding common ground and bridging political divides. She said the campaign was about “everyday Arizonans who are sick and tired of the dysfunction in Washington and who want leaders to put aside party labels and just focus on getting things done.”
Sinema also referenced the late GOP Sen. John McCain in her speech, saying he consistently put country ahead of party, and did the right thing even when it meant standing alone (an apparent veiled reference to his deciding vote last year to doom the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law).
“It’s up to all of us to carry on Sen. McCain’s legacy,” she said.
The race’s results were unknown for several days due to roughly 500,000 votes, mostly from Maricopa County, that still had to be counted after Election Day.
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Regan explained in a statement that vote tabulation can take days due to security measures and the high volume of early vote ballots dropped off at polling places on Election Day. Officials must verify someone who turned in an early ballot on Election Day did not also mistakenly vote in person at the polling place.
Sinema’s historic win could appear surprising in a state where women had early success running for statewide office. But long-serving male senators kept Senate seats elusive, until the two women faced off this year to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake.
Although President Donald Trump won Arizona by just 4 points in 2016, the Grand Canyon State still leans right. That’s why Sinema, who once described herself as the most liberal member of the state Legislature, moved to the middle after she was elected to the House in 2012 and stressed her moderate voting record in her Senate campaign. She also made health care a central part of her race against McSally, and tried to appeal to Republicans aligned with the late GOP Sen. John McCain, who passed away in August.
It was a delicate balancing act for Sinema — attracting GOP and unaffiliated voters, who make up a third of the state’s registered voters, while simultaneously energizing Democratic base voters. She also needed a high turnout among the state’s Latino voters. But the strategy appears to have paid off.
McSally, on the other hand, nationalized the race after winning a three-way GOP primary in late August. The two-term congresswoman aligned herself with Trump despite past criticism of his remarks about women, and the president traveled to the state in October to campaign with her. McSally, the first female pilot to fly in combat, billed herself as a firewall against Democratic control of the Senate.
McSally conceded to Sinema Monday evening, and said in a video that she phoned Sinema to wish her success in the Senate.
Sinema’s victory could partly be attributed to her appeal to swing voters, particularly GOP and independent women, as she largely had the airwaves to herself while Republicans fought each other in the primary.
Arizonans don’t have long before they have to vote in another Senate election. Former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to McCain’s seat after his death, hasn’t committed to serving until a 2020 special election can be held for the remaining two years of McCain’s term. But some potential contenders are already weighing their options.
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