Democrat Mark Kelly flips Republican Senate seat in Arizona

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly speaks to supporters during the Election Night event at Hotel Congress on November 3, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona.

Joe Biden won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes, becoming the second Democratic presidential candidate since 1948 to claim victory in the longtime Republican stronghold.

The former vice president benefited from the state’s changing demographics and successfully won over swing voters who split their tickets two years ago to elect a Republican governor and a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Trump and his allies made an aggressive, but ultimately futile, push to hold on to Arizona, which the president won by 3.5 percentage points in 2016.

Meanwhile, former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSally to become Arizona’s second Democratic senator. Arizona hasn’t had two Democratic senators since Earnest McFarland lost his reelection bid in 1952.

Before the race was called, Kelly said he was “confident that when all the votes are counted, we’re going to be successful in this mission.”

His wife is former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 in an assassination attempt in Tucson.

A Kelly win could prove crucial in determining control of the Senate. McSally was appointed to the seat formerly held by late GOP Sen. John McCain.

In 2018, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema beat McSally to become the first Democrat in Arizona to win a Senate seat in 30 years amid changing demographics.

The state was in play down the ballot, giving Democrats a realistic shot even at winning control of the state Legislature and the Arizona Corporation Commission that regulates electric utilities. Voters also approved an initiative allowing Arizona to join other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Arizona voters were in a negative mood as they chose their president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 132,000 voters and nonvoters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey shows that 61% of Arizona voters said the U.S. is on the wrong track, while 39% said it is headed in the right direction.

But they also were motivated. Election officials in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, said multiple voting locations with people still in line when they were set to close at 7 p.m. remained open as required by state law.

Carla Retana, who turned 18 on Election Day, called it “amazing” to cast a ballot on her birthday.

“I registered months ago to see if I could actually vote. I made calls, and everyone was like, ‘Yes, if you registered before your birthday then, of course, you can vote,” Retana said outside a polling site.

She was with her cousin, Anthony Medina, who turned 18 four months ago. Registered independents, they both voted for Biden.

“Our current president has said so many bad things about Hispanic people, Black people, calling our current virus the ‘Chinese virus.’ I couldn’t really side with him,” Medina said.

Brandon Ross, 27, a financial adviser and Republican, said he voted for Trump as he did in 2016. He said he understands Trump’s demeanor rubs people the wrong way but said his policies on the economy and civil liberties are what matter.

“What he supports is by and large what I support,” Ross said, suggesting that coronavirus restrictions would stay minimal under Trump.

Nearly 143,000 voters had cast ballots in person as of 5 p.m., and 1.7 million early ballots had been returned and their signatures verified, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the county’s elections department.

Statewide, participation was already high, with nearly 62% of voters having cast their ballots either by mail or in-person by Monday morning.

Democrats pinned their hopes on Arizona’s changing demographics and swing voters who split their tickets two years ago to elect a Republican governor and send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. Their fortunes have risen thanks to the state’s growing Latino population, an influx of new voters and unease with Trump among suburban women.

Trump and his allies battled to hold on to Arizona, which the president won in 2016 by 3.5 percentage points.

Speaking early Wednesday from the White House, Trump said many votes were outstanding and “there’s a possibility, maybe even a good possibility” that he could win despite the deficit.

Bill Clinton was the most recent Democratic presidential candidate to take Arizona, winning with 46% of the vote in 1996, helped by Ross Perot’s strong third-party bid. Before that, the last time Arizona selected a Democrat for president was in 1948 with Harry Truman.

The makeup of the state’s U.S. House delegation also had been on the line Tuesday with all nine incumbents facing challenges.

But Republicans Debbie Lesko, representing Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, Paul Gosar in the 4th District and Andy Biggs in the 5th were reelected.

Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick in the 2nd District, Raul Grijalva in the 3rd, Ruben Gallego in the 7th and Greg Stanton in the 9th kept their seats.

However, Republican Rep. David Schweikert, haunted by an ethics probe, was in a close race against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in a district that has historically favored the GOP.

Republicans hoped to topple Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 1st District.

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