John McCain and Joe Arpaio smashed their Republican competitors, Christine Jones and Paul Babeu appear headed for Washington, D.C., and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell might be in trouble.
That's just some of the fallout from Arizona's 2016 primary election on Tuesday, which featured contests that are being watched nationally. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, several races remained too close to call, including Purcell's.
Arizona politics have caught the public's eye since the presidential preference election in March, when thousands of voters in Maricopa County waited in line for up to five hours at the polls. Nationwide, people wonder whether Arizona voters might choose Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump in November, choose a Democrat over a GOP senator who has been in office for 34 years, or choose anyone over six-term Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For good measure, the state is one of two named in a recent FBI alert regarding foreign attacks on voter-registration databases.
Tuesday's primary results didn't disappoint for entertainment value. But that's not to say many Phoenix-area voters won't be disappointed. As of about midnight, with 73 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's website, here are the highlights:
• Dr. Kelli Ward recently diagnosed U.S. Senator John McCain, who turned 80 on Monday, as "old" and "weak." He showed her some muscle on Tuesday, outdistancing her by more than 65,000 votes, or about 52 percent to 38 percent. McCain still must fend off Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in November to keep his seat.
"I've made my share of mistakes, and I think I've done some good," McCain said, once victory seemed assured. "But believe me, I've never made the mistake of not appreciating the extraordinary privilege I've been given by you, the people of Arizona."
• Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's seeking a seventh term and recently used the fact that he's facing a possible criminal contempt charge as fodder for a fundraising e-mail, was beating his old nemesis, Dan Saban, by a margin of more than two to one. Arpaio's office infamously went after Saban in 2008 when the former Mesa cop dared to run against him as a Democrat, raising money from millionaires and using it for an R-rated TV hit piece. Saban switched to the GOP for this race but never gained much momentum. With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Arpaio was up 66 percent to 26 percent. The incumbent sheriff faces a tougher contest in November against Democrat and former Phoenix cop Paul Penzone.
• Penzone, meanwhile, was the only Democrat running for sheriff in Maricopa County and received 147,137 votes, which compares somewhat favorably to Arpaio's tally of 185,407. Saban and two other Republican competitors against Arpaio in the primary were seen as relatively weak candidates, but Penzone has a strong background in law enforcement. Some believe he has a good chance against Arpaio, especially given the potential criminal charge hanging over the latter's head, stemming from the landmark federal civil rights suit Melendres v. Arpaio.
Penzone sent out a message on Tuesday night challenging Arpaio to a debate.
"As candidates, it's time we have a real conversation regarding solutions to the challenges we face," he said. "We can no longer accept politics over policing, nor should we excuse the recent actions from our sheriff, which are in direct violation of the law."
• Helen Purcell, who along with Secretary of State Michele Reagan took the blame for the debacle at the polls in March, was in the fight of her political career. The seven-term politician was neck and neck with Republican competitor and businessman Aaron Flannery. With 89 percent of precincts reporting in the county, Purcell had 125,752 votes to Flannery's 125,623 — a difference of just 129 votes. (Reagan, by the way, won't be up for re-election until 2018.)
• In a crowded field of GOP competitors for Congressional District 1, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was far ahead of his next-closest competitor, Wendy Rogers. Unofficial returns had Babeu pulling about 33 percent, compared to Rogers' 22 percent. With Babeu's strong stance against illegal immigration and history of scandals that includes his alleged threat of deportation against a former Mexican lover and his oversight of a school for troubled youth that used cruel discipline methods, Babeu's apparent win in the primary could spell trouble for Republicans, though. Should his margin hold up, he'll face off in November against Democrat Tom O'Halleran, a former cop who bested his primary competitor, Miguel Olivas, 58 percent to 42 percent.
Babeu's apparent victory prompted the following statement from Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: "Democrats have proven cycle after cycle that we know how to win this critical district. As a former police officer, business owner, and public servant, Tom O’Halleran brought members of both parties together to improve Arizona schools and fully fund all-day kindergarten. ... We’re confident that Tom will run a winning campaign based on the issues that matter to hardworking Arizonans."
• In Congressional District 5, former GoDaddy exec Christine Jones enjoyed a narrow lead against her closest competitor, former lawmaker Andy Biggs. Jones and her team decided at about 10 p.m. there was no way Biggs could catch up and basically declared victory. With no strong Democratic candidate in the solidly Republican district — not that Talia Fuentes, who won the Democratic primary against Kinsey Ramaklus, isn't an interesting candidate — the winner of the GOP primary seems all but assured to take the seat.
Jones said to a crowd at her headquarters in a strip mall near Baseline and Stapley roads that in office she'll strive to be as "transparent and available and accountable as possible."
"We want a new way of thinking," she said. "We want people who think like us, who have a proven track record of getting things done to go to Washington and actually do something."
Biggs's campaign released a statement late Tuesday saying the vote was too close to call and the race "far from over." Biggs will wait until more provisional and mail-in ballots dropped off at the polls are counted to see if the gap narrows.
• In yet another watchable Arizona Congressional race, physician Matt Heinz was beating former TV reporter Victoria Steele 53 percent to 47 percent in CD2. Heinz appears set to challenge incumbent Republican Martha McSally in the swing district.
"I'm thrilled with tonight's results, but there's no time to rest," Heinz said in a statement on Tuesday. "Martha McSally and her wealthy special-interest friends are focused on their own self-interest, not the needs of our district."
• The choice is a bit narrower for three open Arizona Corporation Commission seats. The two Democrats running for the slots, Tom Chabin and Bill Mundell, will appear on November's ballot. On the Republican side, it looks as though Bob Burns, Andy Tobin, and Boyd Dunn will be on the ballot, but not Rick Gray.
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• Sonny Borrelli was beating fellow Republican Ron Gould soundly for the Legislative District 5 State Senate race. The contest between the two Lake Havasu City men grew ugly at times, with Gould apparently leaking a 2001 police report containing an allegation that Borrelli beat his ex-wife. Borrelli strongly denied the allegation, saying he didn't actually hit his wife, and that he only pleaded guilty to get the court process over quickly and return to raising his children. His oldest son backed Borrelli's version of events.
The day began with a bit of excitement in Maricopa County, as some polling facilities failed to open on time. All were online by 6:30 a.m., though, and the election went smoothly for the rest of the day. Perhaps too smoothly: Some poll workers reported seeing very few voters.
Voters endured the long lines in March primarily because there were only 60 polling locations set up in the entire county. This time the county had 720 precincts, said one poll worker. It may have been overkill.
"There were no wait times," said one Mesa poll worker who didn't want to reveal her name. The county had provided the precinct at the Longmore Road Baptist Church with thousands of ballots, but fewer than 100 people voted all day. Slightly more than that number came in to drop off an early ballot, the woman said.