The best attack ads money can buy failed to convince voters to unseat Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, tonight’s vote tally showed.
Opponents spent more than $300,000 to defeat the Republican in what turned out to be the most expensive legislative race in recent memory.
But McComish seized the lead in the early count, and the trend persisted as the night wore on.
By 10:30 p.m., McComish was leading his Democratic foe, Janie Hydrick, an educator, 54 to 46 percent.
Hydrick trailed by more than 4,100 votes out of more than 51,200 that were so far counted.
The Republican’s lead appears to be insurmountable.
“I’ve more than survived,” McComish said, adding he is surprised by his margin of victory.
“I think the people saw through the negativity… and the lies,” he said.
McComish is seeking reelection in Legislative District 18, which includes parts of Phoenix, Chandler, Tempe and Mesa.
While the district leans Republican, it is more competitive than old Legislative District 20, which McComish represented.
The dueling campaigns in LD18 had pitted an articulate educator against a soft-spoken veteran legislator.
But it was also notable for the scorched-earth battle that Democratic groups have waged against McComish, whom they labeled as “extreme.”
Many at the Capitol dismissed that characterization.
McComish is widely regarded in the Capitol community as a “mainstream” Republican who had balked at bills backed by his Tea Party colleagues but who also infuriated Democrats for voting to slash education spending.
At one point, McComish called the charge “risible.”
But it was the big spending by outside groups that sought his defeat that took many by surprise.
With four days to go before Nov. 6, the independent spending against McComish had reached $300,000.
All told, both sides, including outside groups, have spent nearly $600,000 on the race, far exceeding last year’s historic recall election that unseated Russell Pearce. In that race, nearly half a million dollars was spent for and against the candidates.
This year, the bulk of the spending against McComish came from two groups with ties to unions.
The attacks sought to paint McComish as a politician who readily took advantage of perks and freebies, supported an extreme agenda at the Capitol and had no qualms about slashing schools’ money and eliminating popular programs like all-day kindergarten.
But the attack ads went both ways.
The Republican Victory Fund, which is seeking to extend the G.O.P.’s dominance in the Senate, spent roughly $113,000 to defeat Hydrick.
The committee accused her of opposing school choice and other education reform programs espoused by Republicans, such as tying teachers’ salary to how well their students perform on standardized tests.
The group charged Hydrick with being a union hack and “completely beholden to the education bureaucracy.”
Hydrick countered that she fought hard for school accountability and teacher performance, but added that she disagreed with the idea of evaluating a teacher based on how his or her students perform on one test.
She also gave a nuanced position on the system of labeling schools’ performance by letter grades. “I’m not against the lettering. I’m against the criteria,” she said.