Despite trailing in the voting on election night, as the ballots continued to be counted over the last week in the Arizona senate race for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema pulled ahead and, on Monday evening, was declared the winner in the closely contested race with Republican Rep. Martha McSally. As of 5 p.m. Monday, as mail-in, provisional, and early ballots continued to be counted, the tally put Sinema up by some 38,000 votes, giving her a nearly two-point lead. Despite more than a hundred thousand votes still left to count, predominately in areas where Sinema held a significant advantage, the lead appeared insurmountable as McSally would need to win in excess of 60 percent of the remaining votes to catch the three-term congresswoman. The Associated Press called the contest Monday evening and McSally conceded the race that saw $90 million pour into the state.
The race could be a bellwether in the shifting political demographics of Arizona, which an optimistic Hillary Clinton campaign targeted as an aspirational state in play during the 2016 race. That obviously didn’t work out for Clinton, but she lost by a slim three-and-a-half points, setting the stage for Sinema to be the first Democratic senator from the state since 1994. Sinema led throughout much of the runup to the November vote, but the polls tightened in the weeks before election day. The key to the victory, as expected, appears to have been suburban women and independents.
“McSally, a retired U.S. Air Force combat pilot, inextricably linked herself to President Donald Trump. The strategic decision appears to have played well with rural voters, who broke for her. But it almost certainly contributed to her collapse in Maricopa and Pima counties, particularly among moderate women and independent voters,” according to the Arizona Republic. “Sinema, meanwhile, has fundamentally upended Democrats’ playbook for winning a high profile, statewide race. She barely identified herself as a Democrat, instead cast herself as an ‘independent’ voice who would protect Arizonans’ access to affordable healthcare and prescription drugs while working with ‘literally anyone’ on red-meat issues like border security and illegal immigration.”
The remainder of the votes are expected to be counted by Thursday. The Democratic win will boost confidence in the party’s Senate prospects that took a hit when the early results came in last Tuesday. Sinema’s win, which flips a Republican seat, coupled with a Democratic win in neighboring Nevada unseating incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, have revamped the narrative on the Senate results, as the Democrats limited losses to at most two seats despite facing an unthinkably daunting electoral map.