Update: Democrat Kathy Hoffman Leading Arizona Superintendent Contest

Republican Frank Riggs has a narrow lead in the race to lead Arizona schools.
Republican Frank Riggs has a narrow lead in the race to lead Arizona schools. Courtesy of Kathy Hoffman; Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Update, November 9: Democrat Kathy Hoffman took the lead on November 8 in the contest to become Arizona's next schools chief. The latest results released by the Arizona Secretary of State's office as of 5 p.m. Friday show Hoffman with a 32,823-vote margin over Republican opponent Frank Riggs. Original story continues below:

Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic candidate in the too-close-to-call Arizona superintendent's race, is not planning to bow out of the race until more votes are counted, despite trailing Republican Frank Riggs.

She had not spoken to Riggs as of Wednesday.

"I’ll wait," Hoffman said matter-of-factly when asked if she is planning to concede. Hundreds of thousands of votes have yet to be tallied.

The latest results from the Arizona Secretary of State's office show Riggs, a former California congressman, with a 6,173-vote lead. Riggs currently has 837,692 votes to Hoffman's 831,519.

"It’s not a lot," Hoffman said of the gap. "I was hoping to be in the lead at this point, of course."

She is one of the few statewide Democratic candidates within striking distance of their Republican opponent after Tuesday's election, in spite of speculation that Democrats might make inroads in Arizona because of surging turnout and popular discontent with President Trump.

Democratic Secretary of State hopeful Katie Hobbs has also yet to concede the race to Republican opponent Steve Gaynor. Her campaign manager criticized the Associated Press on Tuesday night for calling the race too soon, describing the decision as "head-scratching."

And in the Arizona Senate race, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is trailing Republican Martha McSally by approximately 15,400 votes.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Frank Riggs refused to comment for this article. He wouldn't say if he's planning to declare victory.

"The stuff you've written is over the top," Riggs said. "So, I'm just, you know – I try to cooperate with journalists, but I just can't cooperate with people I don't regard as serious or credible. So unfortunately, that's your doing."

He hung up.

There are around 472,400 ballots outstanding in Maricopa County, Recorder Adrian Fontes said on Wednesday. An estimate from the Arizona Republic put the overall number of statewide ballots to be counted at 650,000.

"I’m still optimistic," Hoffman said. "I know there’s still a lot of ballots out there for Maricopa County and Pima County."

Hoffman's strong ties to Tucson, where she attended the University of Arizona for graduate school and taught in the Vail School District, may help her as more Pima County results roll in, she said.

The official canvass of the election results will take place on December 3, according to a spokesperson for the Secretary of State.

During the last superintendent election in 2014, the result was similarly close. Democrat David Garcia narrowly lost to Republican Diane Douglas by just 16,000 votes. Garcia then ran for governor, but he was beaten easily on Tuesday by the incumbent Doug Ducey.

At 32 years old, Hoffman's upstart campaign has surprised people before, helped by the #RedForEd groundswell this spring.

She is a first-time candidate who defeated an experienced politician, David Schapira, in the Democratic primary in August. Hoffman previously worked as a speech therapist in the Peoria Unified School District for two years before leaving her job at the end of the school year to campaign full-time this summer.

Riggs has criticized Hoffman throughout the campaign for her inexperience and her stated belief that Arizona schools should not increase the number of uniformed campus police, known as school resource officers.

Several candidates championed by the #RedForEd movement lost on Tuesday night, namely Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University. Christine Marsh, a high school English teacher challenging Republican State Senator Kate Brophy McGee in Legislative District 28, was behind by a little more than 1,400 votes.

Hoffman said that it was disappointing to watch another educator running for office, Paradise Valley teacher Jennifer Samuels, lose her race for the State House in Legislative District 15.

"That’s another race that unfortunately did not pan out, which has been disheartening to see," Hoffman said.

In some ways, the surge in teacher activism following the #RedForEd strike buoyed candidates, but in other ways it wasn't enough, Hoffman said.

"I’ve been thinking a lot about how hard it is to reach people and, especially, reach them in a way that is going to compel them to cross party lines," Hoffman said.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty