Voters’ love affair with Sen. Jerry Lewis, the Mesa Republican who unseated Russell Pearce last year, ended tonight.
Despite a strong push to the finish, Lewis lost his race to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ed Ableser of Tempe, the initial vote tally tonight showed.
“It was just too big of a deficit to overcome,” Lewis said, referring to Democrats’ voter-registration edge in the district.
Ableser is ahead, 52 to 43 percent, based on the count.
The initial votes are proving that Ableser’s political machinery, which partly relied on Democrats’ voter-registration edge in the district, has delivered.
Meanwhile, Libertarian Damian Trabel is in third place with 5 percent.
The close of today’s polls also ended what had been a hotly-contested race between Lewis, a charter school executive, and Ableser, a veteran legislator.
Ableser put Lewis on the defensive through most of the campaign, and the strategy appeared to have worked.
Lewis said he’s glad, however, that his campaign steered clear of mudslinging.
“(We) kept it on the issues and on trying to bring a civil tone to Arizona state government,” he said.
During the campaign, Ableser pressed Lewis about his support for a state budget that kept funding for K-12 schools relatively flat and for not restoring popular programs such as KidsCare, Arizona’s health insurance for low-income children.
He also accused Lewis of being a Tea Party “puppet” and, falsely, of having endorsed Pearce, who ran for the Senate in a nearby district but lost to Bob Worsley, a businessman.
In fact, Lewis endorsed Worsley, who is poised to win his general election race.
Ableser defended the attack, and doubled down, saying it was up to Lewis to counter his allegation. Ableser claimed Lewis ran as a ticket with the two Republican House candidates, Mary Lou Taylor and Raymond Speakman, in the district, and that Taylor and Speakman had endorsed Pearce.
Lewis said he supports his fellow Republicans but didn’t team up with them or pool resources to run as a ticket. Speakman also told the Arizona Capitol Times he didn’t endorse Pearce.
Meanwhile, Lewis largely abstained from going negative on Ableser.
His campaign refused, for example, to publicly call out Ableser for missing the most number of votes for two years in a row in the House.
But while Lewis held back, an independent expenditure group that is working to extend Republicans’ dominance in the Senate picked up the attack on Ableser, zeroing on his vote participation record.
Ableser defended his absences by saying they were mainly because of family obligations, citing his wife’s pregnancy in 2011 and babysitting and bringing their only child to doctor appointments this year.