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Congressional newcomers arrive in D.C., even with votes still being counted

Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema was in Washington for orientation with other newly elected members of Congress. Sinema’s GOP challenger conceded the race this weekend, with the latest returns showing her ahead by several thousand votes. (Cronkite News Service photo by Matthew Standerfer)

Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema was in Washington for orientation with other newly elected members of Congress. Sinema’s GOP challenger conceded the race this weekend, with the latest returns showing her ahead by several thousand votes. (Cronkite News Service photo by Matthew Standerfer)

WASHINGTON – A few thousand – or even a few hundred – votes separate the top finishers in three of Arizona’s nine congressional races, with more than 300,000 ballots yet to be reviewed and processed.

But freshly minted Arizona lawmakers did not wait for official confirmation, traveling to Washington for congressional meetings and photo opportunities Tuesday.

Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick were at a Capitol Hill news conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.

Meanwhile, outgoing Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, was in the Senate posing for pictures with GOP leaders, as he prepared to claim outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl’s seat.

More than 324,000 votes had yet to be reviewed and counted as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. He said the official canvass of ballots is not expected until Dec. 3.

Sinema, who held a lead of about 6,500 votes over Republican opponent Vernon Parker on Tuesday, said she had hardly arrived in town before being ushered into a House studio for the first of many orientation activities.

“I just got off the train about an hour and a half ago,” Sinema said. “The next few days are incredibly busy, but those who know me know that I’m fine with that.”

Despite a relatively slim gap after a hard-fought, expensive race, Parker conceded Tuesday to Sinema.

Kirkpatrick, too, appears to have survived a close race, leading Republican Jonathan Paton by 7,500 votes as of Tuesday.

By comparison, Flake leads Democratic challenger Richard Carmona by almost 80,000 votes out of just under 2 million counted as of Tuesday. Carmona conceded to Flake on election night.

The real nail-biter is the race for Arizona’s 2nd District, between Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, and Republican challenger Martha McSally. Barber, who was elected earlier this year to fill out the term of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was leading by about 800 votes Tuesday evening.

The results are unofficial, as Arizona election officials sort through a large collection of early and provisional ballots.

Voters who lacked required identification were given a “conditional provisional” ballot on Election Day. They have until the end of Wednesday to return to their county elections office with proper identification, according to an e-mail from Bennett’s spokesman Matthew Roberts.

In the meantime, orientation for new members of Congress continues, with senators selecting Republican and Democratic leadership Wednesday and House offices scheduled to be assigned at the end of this month.

Pelosi said Tuesday that 25 percent of the Democratic caucus is new, which she called “quite an invigoration,” pointing to increases in women and minority members.

Pelosi also said that she will announce Wednesday whether she plans to seek re-election in the next Congress as leader of the House Democrats.

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