Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the Arizona House 39-21 coming into the night, but that lead appears to be significantly decreased as initial vote counts are reported.
Democrat candidates appear to have won six seats from Republican control, and are close in another race, though the results are in flux as election officials continue to count early ballots.
If they win all seven seats, Democrats will narrow the membership advantage of Republicans to 32-28, giving them decidedly more influence over policy and the budget.
The Democrats targeted six districts – 10, 17, 23, 24, 25 and 26 – and were successful in all but Yuma’s LD24 and the border district of LD25. Surprisingly, the Democrat candidate in District 11, in which Republicans have a large registration advantage, appears to have outpaced both Republican candidates.
Other surprise showings for the Democrats are in District 9, where the Democrat is slightly trailing a conservative Republican, despite facing a 16-percentage-point voter registration disadvantage, and in District 21, where Republicans have nearly a two-to-one advantage over Democrats, yet are in danger of losing a seat.
Though Democrats were unsuccessful in doing something that has only been done once before – defeat a sitting Speaker of the House – they did manage to take one of the district’s seats, apparently defeating Republican Doug Quelland.
After rumors of a Republican Party internal poll showing Speaker Jim Weiers trailing incumbent Mr. Quelland and Democrat challenger Jackie Thrasher began circulating late last month, the Democratic Party began focusing its efforts on drawing Democrats and left-leaning independents, as well as dissatisfied moderate Republicans, to the polls today.
With all precincts reporting, Mr. Weiers had 27.3 percent of the vote and Ms. Thrasher received 27 percent. Mr. Quelland was in third, with 26.2 percent.
Democrat Lamont Lovejoy received only 19.5 percent.
As of Nov. 3, Mr. Weiers had spent $196,364 on his campaign; conversely, both Mr. Quelland and Ms. Thrasher, who both ran publicly financed campaigns under the state’s Clean Elections program, were limited to less than $70,000 each.
District 10 is composed of parts of Phoenix and Glendale, between Northern Avenue and Bell Road, from 51st Avenue to 16th Street. Voter registration breaks down as 40 percent Republican, 33.2 percent Democrat and 26.8 percent independent.
Arizona Capitol Times is reporting that Democrats Ed Ableser and David Schapira have won the seats to the state House of Representatives in district 17.
As the most competitive district in the state, at least in terms of registration numbers, the battle for the Tempe and south Scottsdale district has been fierce. The Democrats have defeated Laura Knaperek and Dale Despain for the Republicans.
“You could say it was the hard work or the 7,000 doors I knocked on…but I think what it came down to is the people of District 17 are sick and tired of legislators who talk big on the campaign trail and then get nothing done,” Mr. Schapira said.
Mr. Ableser said he was happy to be elected, but much more excited about having a Democrat seatmate.
“I’m more thrilled that both David and I are in there so we can bring progressive answers to the people of Tempe,” he said.
Ms. Knaperek, though, said the result was a product of Republican backlash and the popularity of Congressional candidate Harry Mitchell, a Democrat who represented the district in the Legislature since 1999 and was Tempe mayor for 17 years.
“Harry Mitchell is the one you want to be around – he has long coattails,” she said. “I don’t think this was a vote against Laura Knaperek. It was a vote against Republicans.”
The area has been represented in the House by a Republican and a Democrat since 2001, when Meg Burton Cahill replaced Mike Gardner.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Ms. Knaperek is in third place, trailing by about 1,900 votes.
The loss is a blow to the Republicans, as Ms. Knaperek has served in the House for all but two years since 1995 and is a former Appropriations Committee chair.
Though most legislative races are immune from a trickle-down effect of national races, District 17 is unique in that it is the only race this year that could be impacted by the national backlash against Republicans. Because of Mr. Mitchell’s popularity in the district – he was a legislator since 1999 and was Tempe’s mayor from 1978 to 1994 – his candidacy at the top of the ballot, and his recent campaign surge against Republican incumbent J.D. Hayworth, could attract more support for the Democrat legislative candidates.
Voter registration numbers are nearly evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents – 36.3 percent are Republicans, 34.4 percent of voters are Democrats, while 29.2 percent are independents.
Democrats Pete Rios, an incumbent representative, and Barbara McGuire appear to have won the two House seats, according to preliminary election returns. They defeated Republicans John Fillmore and Frank Pratt, who narrowly lost to Mr. Rios in 2004.
With all precincts reporting, Mr. Pratt trails Ms. McGuire for the final seat by about 170 votes.
Though the district has long been a safe haven for Democrats, recent population booms in Pinal County have caused the voter registration numbers to trend Republican, with Democrats holding only a 12-percentage-point lead over Republicans, about half of what it was only two years ago.
Democrats are confident they can retake the seat from the Republicans and send both of their candidates to the House. Political observers tend to agree and say that the Democrats can control the district for at least one more term, though there is a good chance Mr. Pratt wins one of the seats, as this is his second election and many voters are familiar with him.
The district covers much of central Arizona, including most of Pinal County and parts of Maricopa and Gila counties. The voter registration breakdown is 41.1 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican and 27.8 percent independent.
Another historically split district, Yuma and La Paz County voters have chosen a Republican and Democrat for the House since 1992 and appear to have done so this year, electing Democrat Lynne Pancrazi and Republican Ken Rosevear.
With all precincts reporting, they appear to have defeated Democrat Theresa Ulmer and Republican Joseph Melchionne.
The incumbents in the district, Democrat Amanda Aguirre and Republican Russ Jones, are both seeking the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Bob Cannell, who is retiring from politics.
Each party saw this district as an opportunity to take a seat away from the opposition, though for different reasons. Democrats were banking on their registration advantage – they outnumber Republicans by about six percentage points – to lead them to victory.
Republicans, on the other hand, were counting on the conservative Democrats – especially those frustrated with illegal immigration – to support the Republican candidates. Historically, the district has supported Democrats and Republicans equally, and in 2004, Republican candidates received 58 percent of the vote.
Observers expected the district to split once again, largely because voters were expected to cross party lines.
The bulk of the district is Yuma County, though parts of La Paz County are also included. Democrats account for 41 percent of voters, Republicans 34.9 percent and independents 24.1 percent.
Arizona Capitol Times is reporting that Manny Alvarez and Jennifer Burns have been reelected to the House of Representatives.
With all precincts reporting, Mr. Alvarez, a Democrat, has received 27.4 percent of the vote. Incumbent Republican Jennifer Burns sits in second, with a 380 vote lead over Democrat Patricia Fleming and more than 600 votes over Republican Gail Griffin.
Last summer, Democrats set their sights on capturing the seat Ms. Burns holds in the largely Democratic district. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a dozen percentage points, voters elected the moderate Republican in 2002 and reelected her in 2004.
As she seeks reelection this year, Ms. Burns faces a challenge from both sides, as Ms. Griffin, a more conservative ex-legislator and the former chair of the Cochise County Republican Party, is also up for election.
District 25 includes most of the state’s southern border and covers most of Cochise County, Pima County west of Tucson, southwest Pinal County, southern Santa Cruz County and southwest Maricopa County. Democrats have the registration advantage with 43.2 percent of voters, followed by Republicans with 30.9 percent and independents, which make up 25.9 percent of the electorate.
Arizona Capitol Times is reporting that Democrat Lena Saradnik has defeated Republican David Jorgenson in the District 26 House race.
With all precincts reporting, Ms. Saradnik leads Mr. Jorgenson by about 4,300 votes. Republican Pete Hershberger led all candidates in his bid for a fourth term.
The Democratic Party did not begin targeting this district, which has historically been a stronghold for moderate Republicans, until two moderate candidates were defeated by the more conservative Mr. Jorgenson. When initial polling showed Ms. Saradnik neck and neck with him, the party began a two-month-long effort to upset the Republican.
Although outnumbered by about 10 percentage points, Democrats hoped the more moderate Republican voters would be swayed either only vote for incumbent Pete Hershberger or for him and Ms. Saradnik.
In the primary election, Mr. Jorgenson defeated moderate Republicans Lisa Lovallo and Carol Somers, largely by running a single-shot campaign. More than 8,200 voters cast a vote for only one candidate, and observers believe most of those were for Mr. Jorgenson.
The district comprises north-central Pima County and Pinal County’s Oracle Junction and Saddlebrook. Republicans make up 41.7 percent of voters; 31.5 percent are Democrats and 26.8 percent are independents.
Arizona Capitol Times is reporting that Democrat Mark Anthony Desimone has upset Republican opponent Don Hesselbrock in the District 11 House race.
With all precincts reporting, Republican Adam Driggsleads the ticket, followed by Mr. Desimone. Mr. Hesselbrock, a Republican Party activist, trails him by about 950 votes.
The victory was unexpected by political pundits, as Republicans outnumber Democrat voters in the northeast Phoenix district by 17 percentage points.
Democrat Phil Hettmansperger is narrowly hanging onto victory, leading Republican incumbent Warde Nichols by only a handful of votes.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Hettmansperger seems to have overcome a staggering 21-percentage-point registration disadvantage by outpacing Mr. Nichols by only eight votes. The other incumbent, Republican Steve Yarbrough led the field with 38.1 percent of the vote.
Though initial returns showed her capturing a seat, Democrat Sheri Van Horsen trails Republican Rick Murphy in his reelection bid for the state House by 43 votes.
Republican incumbent Bob Stump led all candidates, capturing 36.4 percent of the vote.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by 16 percentage points.