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Updated Apr 17, 2012, 10:20 pm
Republican Jesse Kelly pulled off the primary election win he confidently predicted Tuesday, cruising with 36 percent of the vote.
The four-way race determined who will face off with Democrat Ron Barber in a June special election to fill the seat vacated by Gabrielle Giffords.
Kelly led the pack with 36 percent of the vote, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
He stuck to his mantra of crediting his "message of lower taxes, more jobs, and lower gas prices by using American energy" for his win.
Earlier, Kelly predicted victory to supporters gathered at the midtown Viscount Suites. Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010, gladhanded with about 25 supporters just after the polls closed.
"We're very humbled by the support we've received, and confident we'll go on to victory - not only tonight but in June," he said when asked to forecast the night's events.
Just before 10 p.m., Kelly declared victory, telling 50-some supporters that "we're going to share a cold one," but not to celebrate too much.
"We've won a primary before," he said, in reference to the 2010 race that saw the Tea Party-backed candidate lose by 4,000 votes in the general election.
While a recent poll showed Kelly 4 points up on his Democratic opponent, "we're going to work like we're down 10," he said.
Also in the running Tuesday on the GOP side: state Sen. Frank Antenori, retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally and broadcaster/marketing man Dave Sitton.
Kelly told his supporters that his Republican opponents had all called to concede the race, and to offer their support.
Sitton, who pulled in the most campaign money, couldn't ride that to a win. He trailed with 17 percent, coming in last in votes.
Sitton wouldn't rule out a run in CD2 in the fall, but it's unlikely he'd "challenge a quasi-incumbent Kelly," he said.
Retired Air Force pilot Martha McSally made an initial splash in the campaign, gaining national media attention. But the combat veteran didn't seem to get enough traction to pull off a victory as a political novice. She had support from 25 percent of Republican voters in the primary.
About 50 supporters turned out at the Radisson Hotel to await the vote count with McSally, who said she now would seek the GOP nomination in the fall race in CD2.
"It is time to come together to support our nominee in the special election on June 12, we need to do that. However, I will continue my campaign for the second congressional district of Southern Arizona," she told a crowd of about 30 at the end of the evening.
Earlier, she said she was proud of her supporters and staff.
"It's been an extraordinary experience, it has only been 68 days and we've accomplished so much in so little time with so much energy and resources," she said.
State Sen. Frank Antenori, who was badly beaten in the fundraising sprint, fared better than expected at the ballot box but still came up short. He had 22 percent of the vote.
He conceded the race just after 8:30 p.m.
"Always in true Special Forces fashion, I'll live to fight another day," the ex-Green Beret told supporters.
Antenori told the crowd that what's important now is to get behind Kelly and win the seat from the Democrats.
Antenori said that Ron Barber would just be another rubber stamp for President Barack Obama's policies.
Earlier, at El Parador Mexican Restaurant, about 50 people had arrived by 7:30 p.m. to show their support for the conservative legislator.
As is Antenori's style, the Republican conjured a combat phrase when asked about his chances for a win and his place in the polls..
"I've been out-manned, out-gunned before. ... We're feeling confident," he said.
Barber and the Green Party's Charlie Manolakis ran unopposed in their primaries.
More than 50 volunteers, interns and staff filled the Barber headquarters behind Ike’s Coffee on Speedway.
Barber reiterated his desire to work across party lines to solve issues that affect middle class Americans. Barber agreed that he hopes to work with Republicans to improve U.S. energy production. He said we need to increase domestic oil energy production and lessen our foreign dependence Barber said.
Above all, Barber hopes to bolster the middle class.
“We cannot have a thriving America without a thriving middle class,” Barber said.
"They want a high road campaign that is a civil campaign. A campaign respectful of my opponent while we still have a robust debate about the issues," Barber said of Southern Arizona voters.
Many had already turned in their ballots. More than 72,000 ballots were turned in to the Pima County Elections Department by Monday. Nearly 137,000 early ballots were sent out.
Turnout in the race was 28 percent. 72,000 cast Republican ballots in the election, while 43,000 cast a vote for Barber, even though he ran uncontested.
CD8 covers eastern Pima County, all of Cochise and parts of Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. After redistricting, November will see an election to pick a representative for the new Congressional District 2, which covers much of the same territory.
Primary special election results
- Voter turnout: 27.92 %
- Precincts reporting: 100%
Janet Rose Jackman, Will Seberger, Joshua Pearson, Kevin Asher, Mariana Dale, Rachel Cabakoff and Omer Wazir contributed to this story.