Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday handily defeated Democrat David Garcia to win re-election in a race defined by education funding and border security, NBC News projected.
With 685,499 votes counted., Ducey was leading Garcia with about 57.5 percent of votes. The governor’s wide margin ahead of his Democratic opponent surprised few election-watchers. Polls in recent weeks suggested that Ducey would coast to victory with a double-digit lead.
During his campaign, the Republican governor took credit for Arizona’s growing economy and the 20 percent teacher pay raise he signed in response to this spring’s #RedForEd teachers protests.
He said as much during a victory speech at the DoubleTree Hilton resort in Paradise Valley, noting that he came into office with a "stagnant economy" and an education system that faced numerous lawsuits.
"Boy have we come a long way," Ducey said to a packed ballroom of supporters. We are thrilled our teachers are finally getting the raise they deserve."
Ducey also made an appeal to civility following race that often veered into ugly territory, saying that it is time for "putting the campaign behind us and letting politics stand down."
Yet during the protests earlier this year, supporters of the #RedForEd movement criticized Ducey’s teacher-pay plan as shortsighted and politically opportunistic. They noted that Ducey did not act until teachers threatened to walk out of classrooms and that the governor’s proposal does not include a funding plan.
Garcia hoped to build off the momentum of the teacher strikes, getting support from #RedForEd leaders and the Arizona Education Association. Garcia — who previously lost an election for Superintendent of Public Education — counted on turning out enough new voters and minorities to the polls to overcome the incumbent Ducey.
But Garcia’s campaign suffered from a significant funding disadvantage. Ducey raised more than $6 million, nearly tripling Garcia’s campaign chest.
On top of that, the governor benefited from millions more in ad buys from national groups, like the Republican Governor’s Association. Garcia did not receive similar levels of support from Democratic groups, with most of the national attention shining on U.S. Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema.
Ads attacking Garcia flooded the airwaves, portraying the Democrat as a radical out of touch with moderate Arizonans. Some attacks played off fears of immigrants, a common trope in the Republican Party that has gained prominence under President Donald Trump.
One ad featured a white family warning that Garcia’s immigration positions would “allow more sex trafficking and more drugs into our neighborhoods.” The ad darkened Garcia’s face and recast Garcia’s past comment that he would like to “replace” ICE with the “abolish ICE” position favored by some progressives.
Despite a decisive primary victory against runner-up State Rep. Steve Farley, Garcia’s campaign never caught the momentum that he hoped for.
Garcia thanked his many supporters, starting with his family, during a concession speech at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. He vowed to keep pushing for changes in Arizona's education system and other sectors.
"Tonight we fell short," Garcia said. "We're still going to celebrate, because this is just the beginning. And fighting to continue. It must continue. Because deep in my heart, I know we will win."
Below — Video of Garcia's full concession speech:
(UPDATE: Statements from Ducey and Garcia's speeches were added after initial publication of this article.)
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