Democrats have a small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Democrats maintained a small but dwindling lead over their Republican rivals in the U.S. Senate and governor races, contests that will determine control of the Senate and rules for the 2024 election in a crucial one battlefield state could determine.

The races were too early to be scheduled two days after the election, with around 600,000 ballots still to be counted, about a quarter of the total.

Lengthy vote counts have been a staple of Arizona elections for years, where the overwhelming majority of votes are cast by mail and many people wait until the last minute to cast them back. But as Arizona has evolved from a GOP stronghold to a competitive battleground, the delays for partisans on both sides have increasingly become a source of national concern.

After opening big leads early on election night when only early mail-in ballots were reported, Democrats found their leads dwindling as more Republican ballots were counted. On Thursday morning, Democrats led in the races for Senate, governor and secretary of state, while the race for attorney general was essentially a tie. It could be several days before it’s clear who won some of the closer competitions.

With Republicans still on the hunt, it remained unclear whether much of the US’s stronger-than-expected showing by Democrats would extend to Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that became a battleground during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The GOP nominated a list of candidates deserving of Trump’s endorsement after falsely claiming his loss to President Joe Biden was tainted.

Among them, former television news anchor Kari Lake trailed about a half-point behind Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the gubernatorial race, a contest heavily focused on Lake’s baseless allegations of cheating in the 2020 election. The Republican nominee for attorney general was also just behind.

Democrats had more comfortable 5-point leads in the US Senate and Secretary of State races, but with so many ballots pending, the races were too early to announce.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Abraham Hamadeh took the lead from Democrat Kris Mayes.

Officials in Maricopa County, the most populous state, said about 17,000 ballots were affected by a printing accident that prevented tellers from reading some ballots, a problem that slowed voting in some places and enraged Republicans involved expected a strong turnout on election day. County officials said all ballots will be counted but did not give a timeline for doing so.

The cause remains a mystery. The top two officers on the county board of supervisors, both Republicans, said in a statement Wednesday night that they used the same printers, settings and paper thicknesses during the August primaries and pre-election testing when there were no widespread problems.

“There is no perfect choice. Yesterday wasn’t a perfect choice,” Bill Gates, chairman of the board of directors, told reporters earlier in the day. “We will learn from this and do better.”

Lake reiterated her promise to call the legislature into a special session immediately after she was sworn in to make massive changes to Arizona’s election laws. She wants to significantly reduce early and mail-in voting, options chosen by at least 8 in 10 Arizona voters, and hand-count all ballots, which election officials say would be extremely time-consuming.

Ballots can include dozens of races. Maricopa County has more than 50 judges on the ballot, in addition to state and local races and 10 electoral measures.

“We’re going to go back to small counties where it’s easier to spot problems and easier to fix, and it’ll also be easier to count votes,” Lake told Fox News host Tucker Carlson Wednesday night. “Those are some of the things I would like to see. I will work with the legislature.”

A political divide between town and country was evident among Arizona voters.

Democrats Katie Hobbs and Senator Mark Kelly each received support from nearly two-thirds of city voters, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive poll of more than 3,200 Arizona voters.

Suburban voters were roughly evenly split between the two Democratic candidates and their GOP rivals, Kari Lake and Blake Masters. Small-town and rural voters were more likely to favor Lake and Masters.

In the Senate race, suburban men and women were divided in their candidate preferences. Suburban men clearly preferred Masters, suburban women Kelly.

In the race for governor, suburban men overwhelmingly supported Lake, while suburban women slightly favored Hobbs.

Meanwhile, Republicans, who control the three-member board of directors in GOP-heavy Cochise County in southeastern Arizona, voted Wednesday to appeal a judge’s decision preventing them from hand-counting all ballots, which are also tabulated by machines will.

Efforts to hand-count ballots in the county and elsewhere across the country are being fueled by unfounded concerns by some Republicans that problems with vote-counting machines or voter fraud led to Trump’s 2020 defeat.

A judge said the plan violated state elections law, which limits hand counting to a small sample of ballots, a process designed to confirm the machine count was accurate.


Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Terry Tang contributed. Democrats have a small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races

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