The three-way Republican primary in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District is still too close to call, as Arizona House speaker Andy Tobin and rancher Gary Kiehne are locked in a near tie, and neither is conceding the race until every ballot is counted.
As of Thursday afternoon, Tobin was holding a lead of 346 votes.
His lead, however, has slipped significantly during the day, dropping from a high of 532 votes on Wednesday and 470 at the start of the day Thursday.
Although early ballots have been counted and all polling precincts have reported their vote tallies, there are still thousands of outstanding votes, as county recorders are still tabulating provisional ballots and early ballots dropped off at polling places on Election Day, which will ultimately decide the result of the election.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable members of Congress and is a top target for national Republicans.
Tobin’s campaign manager, Bill Cortese, said he expects that as more ballots are counted, Tobin will hold the lead and win.
“The math is not there for our opponent, but we’re going to let the process play out and make sure all the votes are counted. We’re not assuming anything, but we feel good, and we’re solidly optimistic,” he said.
But Kiehne’s campaign consultant, Chris Baker, disagrees.
“Clearly Mr. Cortese was not a math major. Even by a pessimistic estimate, there are still 5,000 to 7,000 votes (left to count),” he said.
Baker noted that since Election Night ended, the trend for the provisional and late early ballots has gone towards Kiehne.
“Any place that has been updated so far, it looks like we’ve gained. And it’s going to go on for a few more days,” he said.
Tobin started with a lead of about 500 votes as early ballots were counted, but he Kiehne went back and forth for hours, taking turns in the lead. At one point, Kiehne was leading Tobin by about 400 votes, but the late reporting of ballots from Yavapai County, where Tobin lives, put the speaker back on top. He has maintained his razor-close lead as county recorders across the sprawling district are continuing their ballot counts.
His lead, however, has slipped some, dropping from a high of 532 votes on Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Kwasman is in last place with 28 percent, trailing Tobin by about 2,200 votes. He has officially conceded the race.
The district is one of the largest in the country. It spans from Arizona’s northwest corner through the Grand Canyon and down the state’s border with New Mexico to the northern edges of Pima County.
CD1 leans slightly Democratic, but voters chose Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over President Obama in the 2012 election.
Tobin was seen as the early frontrunner in the GOP primary race and has touted himself as the only Republican with the chops to take on Kirkpatrick in November. However, doubts emerged about his campaign after he struggled to raise the money many expected he would, and he failed to separate himself from his Republican opponents.
While many Republican strategists still expect Tobin to pull through, the long wait to claim victory until every ballot is counted hurts Tobin going into the general election, as he is already losing time that could be spent fundraising.
Tobin was outspent by Kiehne. He spent $600,000 as of Aug. 6, mostly his own money. Tobin spent $520,000.
But Tobin had a series of last-minute boosts from outside groups spending to support him. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $300,000 on TV advertisements for Tobin, who was the only Republican candidate not airing TV ads as of the middle of August. Preserve America’s Future PAC also spent $25,000 on his behalf this month, while Main Street Advocacy spent $40,000 on his behalf last week.
Kwasman, meanwhile, was even less successful than Tobin at fundraising, spending only $255,000. Outside groups have also come to his aid. The Hometown Freedom Action Network PAC spent $220,000 on commercials supporting Kwasman and opposing Tobin and Kiehne. Kiehne has not received any support from outside groups.
While the Republicans have been spending their money as fast as it comes in, Kirkpatrick has the luxury of an uncontested primary. She has stockpiled more than $1.4 million for the November election, making her a formidable candidate for whichever Republican emerges victorious tonight.