Arizona Senate race goes to overtime with glacial vote count

U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally
U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally

Arizona’s knock-down, all-out Senate race is heading into overtime, as a neck-and-neck contest between two congresswomen collides with Arizona’s sometimes glacial vote-counting procedures.

Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema were separated by a small fraction of the votes tabulated as of early Wednesday, with hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots still outstanding.

Though the vast majority of Arizona voters cast their ballots early by mail, those who receive early ballots but then drop them off in person at polling stations on or close to Election Day can jam up the system.

That’s because the state’s most populous county, Maricopa, can take days to count those ballots while they simultaneously tabulate Election Day votes.

The so-called “late earlies” may not be counted until Thursday in the county, where about 60 percent of Arizona’s voters live. Arizona counties with far fewer voters may also face long delays processing those ballots.

That leaves the contentious Senate race a cliffhanger in what’s otherwise shaping up to be another banner Arizona year for Republicans. The GOP has won every statewide race in Arizona over the past decade, and Democrats were hoping Sinema could break that streak.

Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick was elected to the Tucson-area swing district seat vacated by McSally. Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran’s mainly northern Arizona seat was too close to call early Wednesday, and the outcome will determine which party gets the majority of the state’s nine member U.S. House delegation.

The election featured heavy statewide turnout of about 60 percent, more in line with a presidential election than a midterm.

The Senate contest was the marquee race, a contest between two champion fundraisers who are no strangers to tight races. McSally lost her first general election by less than 200 votes and won her second by about that many, and Sinema also represents a competitive swing district.

The two are battling over the seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who decided not to run for re-election because he realized his criticism of President Donald Trump made it impossible for him to survive politically.

McSally and Sinema have both remade themselves politically. McSally, 52, is a onetime Trump critic who has embraced the president since his election. She has tried to rally Republican voters by emphasizing her military background as the first U.S. female combat pilot while touting her support for the president’s tax cut and other parts of his agenda.

Sinema, 42, is a former Green Party activist who became a Democratic centrist with her first election to the House of Representatives in 2012.

She’s one of the congressional Democrats most likely to vote to back Trump’s agenda but has spent the race hammering McSally for casting a vote for the health bill backed by the president. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which didn’t become law, would have weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

In response, McSally criticized Sinema over her shifting views, contending she was still a closet liberal who disrespected the military. Republican ads publicized a 2010 video of Sinema repeating a comedian’s description of Arizona as “the meth lab of democracy.”

McSally also accused Sinema of treason for an offhand comment in a 2002 radio interview with an anti-war talk show host who suggested hypothetically he might join the Taliban. Sinema had responded it would not bother her if she did so.

During her 2016 campaign to be re-elected to her Tucson area swing district House seat, McSally criticized Trump for attacking the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq and for a videotape in which the future president bragged about sexually assaulting women.

That earlier criticism of Trump hobbled McSally during this year’s three-way Republican primary for Senate, when challengers attacked her not supportive enough of the president.

Sinema faced no real opposition in the Democratic primary and had months to define herself as a nonpartisan, problem-solving centrist on the airwaves while her allies slammed McSally with attack ads over the Republican’s health care vote.

The candidates and their allies spent more than $90 million in a race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Also at stake is Arizona’s role in national elections. Democrats have repeatedly hoped the state’s growing Latino population and influx of more educated professionals would make it competitive.

The Senate race will test that theory and may help determine whether Democrats target Arizona in the 2020 presidential election.


For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

Cajero Bedford long run in Legislature over

Olivia Cajero Bedford
Olivia Cajero Bedford

The Cajero dynasty in the Arizona Legislature has ended after more than 40 years.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in Pima County, Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, who was running for one of two vacant House seats in South Tucson’s Legislative District 3, has been defeated.

First-time candidate Andres Cano led in the three-way race and political newcomer Alma Hernandez took the second spot in the Democratic primary. Unofficial results show Cajero Bedford fell short of the second spot by just 332 votes.

Cajero Bedford, who has served in the Legislature for 16 years, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003, where she served for eight years. She has served in the state Senate since 2011 and is termed out this year.

Minus a six-year absence between 1996 and 2003, this marks the first time in more than four decades that a Cajero is not in the Legislature. Her parents, Bernardo “Nayo” Cajero and Carmen Cajero, served in the House for 28 years.

Cano has served as Pima County Board of Supervisor Richard Elias’s community liaison since 2012, and he served as Elias’s campaign manager in 2012 and 2016.

Hernandez, the sister of Rep. Daniel Hernandez, who represents neighboring Legislative District 2, works in the public health field. She led Arizonans United for Healthcare, working to defeat the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Cano and Hernandez will face off in the Nov. 6 general election against Beryl Baker, the Green Party candidate, who ran unopposed in the primary.

LD3 House By The Numbers

28,105 votes cast


Olivia Cajero Bedford 32.05 percent

Andres Cano 34.72 percent

Alma Hernandez 33.23 percent


Beryl Baker 100 Percent


Former lawmaker John Fillmore on his way back to Capitol

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction (Cronkite News Service photo)
John Fillmore (Cronkite News Service photo)

Former Rep. John Fillmore, a one-term lawmaker from Apache Junction who served from 2011-12, could be returning to the state Capitol.

Early voting poll results show that Fillmore and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, have taken a lead in the five-way GOP primary for the two House seats in Legislative District 16.

Three other Republicans, Lisa Godzich, Stephen Kridler, and Tara Phelps, are also vying for the Republican nomination, hoping to replace Rep. Doug Coleman, who is running for justice of the peace.

Godzich, a respiratory therapist, is the second vice-chair of the LD16 GOP committee. She serves on U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs’ Veterans Affairs Committee and is also a board member of the Mesa Republican Women.

Kridler is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a retired law enforcement office, who served 15 years with the Apache Junction Police Department.

Phelps, an Arizona native and mother of five, received a bachelor’s degree in business and supply chain management from Arizona State University. She is a small business owner.

The winners of the primary will face off in the Nov. 6 general election against Democrat Sharon Stinard, who ran in the Democratic primary unopposed. Green Party candidate Richard Grayson is running as a write-in candidate, and in order to qualify for the general election, Grayson must receive at least as many votes as the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot in that district.

LD16 House By The Numbers

Early votes  


Kelly Townsend 33 Percent

John Fillmore 23 Percent

Lisa Godzich 20 Percent

Stephen Kridler 9 Percent

Tara Phelps 15 Percent


Sharon Stinard 100 Percent

Green candidate drops out of U.S. Senate race, throws support to Sinema

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 (AP Photo/Matt York)

A last-minute decision by the Green Party candidate to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate could provide Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a needed bump.

Angela Green told KPNX-TV on Thursday she wants people to vote for “a better Arizona.”

“And that would be for Kyrsten Sinema,” she said.

Angela Green
Angela Green
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks prior to delivering her signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Sinema is officially running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Women running for office have crossed another threshold with a record number of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Actually winning those seats and changing the face of the chamber are a different matter. Many of the women jumping into Senate races face uphill campaigns. (AP Photo/Matt York)
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AP Photo/Matt York)

Green, whose polling has never gotten above single digits, said she struggled with the decision.

“But that’s what it is,” she said.

Green said she could not support Republican Martha McSally who, depending on which poll is cited, is in a neck-and-neck race with Sinema. That decision, Green said, had to do with Sinema’s views.

“They are more in line with what my political, my agenda is, what I’m looking to do to help Arizona become more green again,” she said. That conclusion, Green said, came following watching the debate between the two contenders.

“Sinema’s stance on a lot of things are close to mine,” she said.

Whether that moves the needle remains to be seen.

A survey by OH Predictive Insights released Wednesday put McSally at 52 percent versus 45 percent for Sinema. Green was polling at 1 percent, with 2 percent undecided. That survey was taken between Oct. 22 and 23.

But a CNN poll covering Oct. 24 through 29 had Sinema up 4 points, the poll’s margin of error.

And one done by NBC and Marist in the Oct. 23 to 27 had Sinema with a 6-point lead in a head-to-head race, though Sinema’s lead shrunk to 3 points when polled as a three-way race including Green.

Then there’s the question of whether there are enough Green supporters out there who have not already mailed in their early ballots.

Figures Thursday from the Secretary of State show about 1.35 million ballots already have been turned in.

U.S Rep. Martha McSally

There are about 3.7 million registered voters. But that still leaves the question of how many will actually cast a vote.

The last midterm election in 2014 had a turnout of just 47.2 percent of those registered.

There have been some predictions that voter interest is stronger this year than it was at that time, especially with the fight over the Senate seat that became open when Republican Jeff Flake decided not to seek reelection.

By comparison, turnout two years ago, with a presidential election, was 74.2 percent.

“Sixteen years later and Kyrsten Sinema’s still the Green Party’s candidate,” said McSally spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. That is a reference to the fact that Sinema had aligned herself with the Green Party in her first bid for the Legislature in 2002; she did not get elected until two years later under the Democratic Party banner.

Green could not be reached for comment.

At least one area where Green’s views likely come closer to that of Sinema is on the issue of immigration.

“I, too, am an immigrant,” she wrote on the information submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. “That is why I support programs like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and laws that make it easier and more efficient for immigrants coming here to become valuable citizens in our society.”

McSally, by contrast, has hewed close to the positions of President Trump, promoting the fact that she supported legislation that includes building a wall. She also has come out in support of the president’s decision to send troops to the border.

Libertarian candidates on sidelines in general election

Barry Hess
Barry Hess

For the first time in more than two decades, Arizonans won’t have the option to vote for a Libertarian Party candidate for governor.

And that’s exactly the way Republican lawmakers designed it.

A law in effect for the first time in a statewide race makes it much harder for candidates of recognized minor parties to actually get their names on the general election ballot, whether through petitions or write-in votes.

Supporters of that 2015 law, all Republicans, made no secret at the time they were doing that out of fear that Libertarians were siphoning off votes that otherwise would go to Republicans. So the theory was simple: eliminate Libertarians from the ballot and help GOP candidates.

Barry Hess, who has been the Libertarian candidate for governor every election since 2002, said the law is based on the flawed premise that members of his party, denied the chance to vote for one of their own, would instead mark the ballot for a Republican. He said without a Libertarian on the ballot they generally are more likely to protest by refusing to vote.

But Hess said Libertarians, angered by the maneuvers of GOP lawmakers, may now actually make their predictions come true.

“What you’re going to see is a backlash,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“If we’re not on the ballot, we’re going to all vote Democrat,” Hess said. “Screw them!”

Prior to 2015, candidates for recognized minor parties could get on the ballot simply by submitting petitions with the signatures of one-half of one percent of those registered with the party. This year for the Libertarians, a statewide candidate would have had to collect around 160 names.

That year Republicans pushed through a change lowering the requirement to one-quarter of one percent. But they engineered it so that the figure was based on all who could sign a candidate’s petition.

That added political independents to the base, who actually outnumber Democrats and run a close second to Republicans.

So this year the minimum signature requirement for a Libertarian running statewide was 3,153, about 10 percent of all those actually registered as Libertarians

Meanwhile the numbers for Republican and Democrat nominations remained close to what it always had been: 6,223 for the GOP and 5,801 for Democrats, both a small fraction of each party’s voter registration.

GOP lawmakers who pushed the change made it clear they hoped to improve the odds for Republican lawmakers who might otherwise lose votes to a Libertarian. Their proof? The 2012 congressional race.

In CD 1, which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson, Republican Jonathan Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes — votes that Rep. J.D. Mesnard contended likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in the newly created CD 9 which encompasses parts of Tempe and Phoenix, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema bested Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

And to ensure the point was not lost on his GOP colleagues, Mesnard made the issue more personal, warning them that they, too, could find themselves aced out of a seat if they don’t change the signature requirements.

“I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this,” he said during a floor speech.

The law has produced the desired results: No minor party candidate running for statewide office gathered enough signatures to be on the ballot in the primary.

That still left the possibility of minor party candidates qualifying for the ballot through write-in efforts during the primary. Hess pursued that path in his Libertarian gubernatorial bid this year.

But that same 2015 law required they get at least as many write-in votes as signatures they otherwise would have been required to get for regular nomination. And the formal election results announced this week found none of the three met that burden.

That clears the way for a head-to-head race between incumbent Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat  challenger David Garcia, without either candidate having to worry about votes being siphoned off by Hess, though Angel Torres did qualify as Green Party candidate.

Hess said if there is a need for a minimum signature requirement — a point he does not concede — the number needed “should be low to accommodate an open field.”

“What they’re trying to do is shut the field down completely, to win by exclusion,” he said.

And if that’s what Republicans are doing, Hess said, they’re going to be sorry as there will be a “concerted effort” by Libertarians to throw their support to Democrats in protest.

“And they are our worst enemies, for crying out loud,” he said.

Legal challenges by the Libertarians have come up empty.

In a ruling last year, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell acknowledged that the 2015 law sharply increased the number of signatures Libertarian candidates needed to qualify for ballot status. In some cases, the difference is more than 20 times the old requirement.

But Campbell said the new hurdle is not “unconstitutionally burdensome.” And the judge accepted the arguments by attorneys for the state that the higher signature requirements ensure that candidates who reach the November ballot have some “threshold of support.”

The case now awaits a hearing at the federal appeals court.

Sinema, like McCain, reaches for bipartisanship

In this June 24, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles as she returns to the Capitol after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington. More than her shock of purple hair or unpredictable votes Sinema is perhaps best known for doing the unthinkable in Washington: spending time on the Republican side of the aisle. Her years in Congress have been a whirlwind of political style and perplexing substance, an anti-war liberal-turned-deal-making centrist who now finds herself at the highest levels of power.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this June 24, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles as she returns to the Capitol after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington. More than her shock of purple hair or unpredictable votes Sinema is perhaps best known for doing the unthinkable in Washington: spending time on the Republican side of the aisle. Her years in Congress have been a whirlwind of political style and perplexing substance, an anti-war liberal-turned-deal-making centrist who now finds herself at the highest levels of power.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

More than for her shock of purple hair or unpredictable votes, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is perhaps best known for doing the unthinkable in Washington: She spends time on the Republican side of the aisle.  

Not only does she pass her days chatting up the Republican senators, she has been known to duck into their private GOP cloakroom — absolutely unheard of — and banter with the GOP leadership. She and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell talk often by phone. 

Sinema’s years in Congress have been a whirlwind of political style and perplexing substance, an antiwar liberal-turned-deal-making centrist who now finds herself at the highest levels of power. A key negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure compromise, she was among those President Biden first called to make the deal — and then called upon again as he worked furiously to salvage the agreement from collapse. A holdout to changing the Senate’s filibuster rules, she faces enormous pressure to act while voting rights in her own state and others hang in the balance.  

David Lujan
David Lujan

“If anybody can pull this off it’s Kyrsten,” said David Lujan, a former Democratic colleague of Sinema’s in the Arizona Legislature. “She’s incredibly smart, so she can figure out where people’s commonalities are and get things done.” 

The senator’s theory of the case of how to govern in Washington will be tested in the weeks ahead as Congress works to turn the infrastructure compromise into law and mounts a response to the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s strict new voting rules.  

She is modeling her approach on the renegade style of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018 and was known for his willingness to reach across the aisle. But aspiring to bold bipartisanship is challenging in the post-Trump era of hardened political bunkers and fierce cultural tribalism. Many in her own party scoff at her overtures to the GOP and criticize her for not playing hardball.  

Her name is now uttered alongside West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin as the two Democrats standing in the way of changing the filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to advance legislation — a priority for liberals working to pass Biden’s agenda in the split 50-50 Senate. This year she cast a procedural vote against raising the minimum wage and has opposed the climate change-focused Green New Deal, even though she’s not fully opposed to either policy. She declined a request for an interview. 

“It’s the easiest thing in the world for politicians to declare bipartisanship dead and line up on respective sides of a partisan battle,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press. “What’s harder is getting out of our comfort zones, finding common ground with unlikely allies, and forming coalitions that can achieve durable, lasting results.” 

Sinema arrived in Washington with a burst of energy and a swoosh of fashion. She quickly became known as one of the best vote counters in the House, on par with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, because of her visits to the other side of the aisle. She voted against Pelosi for speaker more than once. 

Her maiden speech in the Senate drew from McCain’s farewell address, a marker of where she was headed. She changed the decades-old Senate dress code by simply wearing whatever she wants — and daring anyone to stop her. The purple wig was a nod to the coronavirus pandemic’s lockdown. (In off hours, she has been spotted wearing a ring with an expletive similar to “buzz off.”) 

“People may debate her sincerity, but the truth is, she makes an active decision that she’s going to work well with other people — and I haven’t seen her slip up,” said Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who served with her in the House. 

Sinema’s status as a bipartisan leader fascinates those who’ve watched her decades-long rise in Arizona politics, where she began as a lonely left-wing activist who worked for Ralph Nader’s 2000 Green Party presidential campaign and then slowly retooled herself into a moderate advocate of working across the aisle. 

Steve Yarbrough
Steve Yarbrough

“Ideologically, it does surprise me,” Steve Yarbrough, a Republican who served 12 years with Sinema in the Arizona Legislature, said of her transformation. “But given how smart and driven she is, well, that doesn’t surprise me at all.” 

That Sinema even made it that far seemed improbable. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she moved with her mother and stepfather from Tucson to the Florida panhandle, where she lived in an abandoned gas station for three years.  

Driven to succeed, she graduated from the local high school as valedictorian at age 16 and earned her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Utah at age 18, leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which she’d been raised, after graduation. 

Sinema landed in Phoenix, where she earned several more degrees — including a law degree and a doctorate — worked as a social worker and then a lawyer, vociferously protested the Iraq War and fought for immigrant and LGBTQ rights at a time when Arizona was veering right. In 2004 she was elected to the state Legislature representing a fairly liberal area and initially was a backbencher who lobbed rhetorical bombs from the left. 

But Sinema has written and spoken extensively of how she discovered the merits of moderation while serving in the GOP-controlled state Legislature. She wrote a book titled “Unite and Conquer” about the need for leftists to compromise and cut deals. 

In 2006, she co-chaired a bipartisan group to fight a gay marriage ban on the ballot and had to decide whether to simply condemn the ban or try to defeat it, said Steve May, the Republican former state lawmaker who collaborated with her. 

An avid consumer of polling, she helped hit upon a strategy of targeting older, retired heterosexual couples who could also lose benefits under the ballot measure due to their unmarried status. They narrowly succeeded in defeating it. (Another ban passed two years later.)  

“She came from doing speeches and leading protests, and she learned she can actually win,” May said. 

When a congressional seat opened up in a bluing stretch of Phoenix’s eastern suburbs, Sinema ran and won. 

She had remade herself into the ideal candidate for a state that was slowly becoming competitive. And in 2018, she seized the moment, winning the open Senate seat. 

Her infrastructure work is only one of several bipartisan “gangs” in the Senate where she is testing her theory of governance. She is about to roll out a minimum wage proposal with Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and is involved with others on immigration law changes. 

“Kyrsten is always honest and straightforward, two often underrated qualities that are the mark of a successful legislator,” said Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican whip, who is among those Sinema often seeks out for conversation.  

In a statement to the AP, Thune said that “while we certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue,” he trusts that she is transparent with him, and he respects her “sincere pursuit of bipartisanship.” 

Charming and funny in private conversations, Sinema prides herself on competing in marathons and triathlons, while maintaining a notoriously colorful wardrobe — even in her Green Party days, she referred to herself as a “Prada socialist.” 

Dashing from the Senate recently, she brushed off reporters’ questions about the infrastructure talks. On that day she wore a faux tuxedo bib dress paired with a suit jacket. Why? 

She does what she wants, she suggested, by way of a shrug, before she climbed into a waiting car. 


Nicholas Riccardi reported from Denver.