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Sinema wins U.S. Senate seat; McSally concedes, trailing by 38k votes

Arizona's next U.S. senator will be a Democratic woman: Kyrsten Sinema, who steadily built an insurmountable lead over Republican candidate Martha McSally, who had led in the earliest count of ballots.

Sinema's margin over McSally held steady at about 30,000 votes over the weekend, and hit 38,000 as new tallies were released by Pima and then Maricopa on Monday. Sinema had 1,085,803 votes Monday afternoon, while McSally had 1,049,998. She then extended her lead to 1,097,321 to 1,059,124.

The new numbers mean the battle between the two U.S. representatives from Arizona — Sinema has represented the Tempe area and McSally the eastern half of Tucson and Southeastern Arizona — is all but over. While about 172,000 ballots remain to be reviewed and counted, McSally has trailed significantly in the areas where most votes are left to be added to the tally.

TucsonSentinel.com was the first news organization to call the race for Sinema, at 3:37 p.m., following an afternoon update of Pima County's count.

McSally conceded the race just before 6 p.m., announcing that she'd called Sinema to congratulate her on becoming Arizona's first female senator.

"I wish her success. I'm grateful to all those who supported me in this journey. I’m inspired by Arizonans' spirit and our state's best days are ahead of us," she said in a Facebook post accompanying a short video of her petting her dog and thanking supporters.

Just moments later, Sinema posted about her victory: "As long as I've served Arizona, I've worked to help others see our common humanity (and) find common ground. That's the same approach I'll take to representing our great state in the Senate, where I'll be an independent voice for all Arizonans," she said. "Thank you, Arizona. Let's get to work."

The Associated Press had called the race just minutes before, at 5:41 p.m.

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Later, Sinema gave a short victory speech, striking a bipartisan note and recognizing that her win was recognized on Veterans Day.

"Today, and every day, we honor their service and sacrifice. They’ve given everything to protect our freedoms and our democracy, and it’s because of them that we are here today," she said.  "I'm grateful to all veterans and servicemembers - including my brothers, Paul and Sterling, and my opponent, Congresswoman McSally."

She continued:

Arizonans had a choice between two very different ways forward — one focused on fear and party politics, and one focused on Arizona and the issues that matter to everyday families.

Arizonans rejected what has become far too common in our country: name calling, petty, personal attacks, doing and saying whatever it takes just to get elected. It's dangerous, and it lessens who we are as a country.

Arizona proved that there is a better way forward. We can work with people who are different than us. We can be friends with people who are different than us. We can love and care about people who are different than us. We can keep people who are different than us safe. We can be good people who care deeply about each other even when we disagree.

We can start by listening to someone with a different opinion – listening not to rebut or debate, but listening to understand.

We can try to understand another person's life experiences and perspective. We can try to imagine what another person's life might be like, that perhaps her experiences have shaped her life just like our experiences have shaped ours.

We can articulate our own opinions and beliefs without believing or saying that someone else's are therefore wrong. We can embrace difference while seeking common ground.

As I head to serve our great state in the United States Senate, I pledge to double down on this approach.

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Sinema invoked the legacy of U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose seat in the Senate may end up being filled by McSally, if Sen. Jon Kyl, the appointee, steps down soon as expected.

A few months ago, we lost a legend who exemplified that spirit and all the best of Arizona. His example shines a light on the way forward.

Sen. John McCain stood for everything we stand for as Arizonans: fighting for what you believe in, standing up for what's right even if you stand alone, and serving a cause greater than one's self.

Sen. McCain is irreplaceable, but his example will guide our next steps forward. He taught us to always assume the best in others, to seek compromise instead of sewing division, and to always put country ahead of party.

It's up to us to carry on Sen. McCain's legacy.

Almost everywhere I go, I'm asked a variation of the same question - how did our country get to this place, and how can we make it better? Sometimes the question is targeted towards Congress - how to get elected officials to break the gridlock and work together. Sometimes the question is about the television commercials - how to get the ugliness to stop. But in each question, the root is the same. What has happened and how can we fix it?

Everyone recognizes that it's broken. And really, we all know the solution. We - we the citizens of this great country - we must fix it. We must be an active part of the solution. We must be willing to put down our sticks sharpened for battle. We must be willing to turn to our neighbors and pick them up instead.

Our challenge today is to heal the rent in our country's fabric, to come together as a people and as a nation, to set aside our minor differences and unite around our love of country and its fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our great constitution.

Sen. McCain said 'But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times.'

It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight, but we can work together to meet the challenges our country faces. We can do this differently. For our country, for our future, for Sen. McCain, and for each other I think we must.

Pima votes locked in win for Sinema

Pima's latest returns put a victory well out of McSally's grasp, with the bulk of the votes in the most heavily populated area of her soon-to-be former congressional district not cast in her favor. The Republican would have to win the remaining ballots by about 20 points to have a chance at closing the gap. Most of those ballots left are in Maricopa County, where she was trailed by about four points.

Pima County's Monday update, filed at 3:37 p.m., showed the Democrat edging the Republican by 4,148 among the 16,777 ballots added to the count. County officials said they didn't plan to add any more of the about 20,000 Pima ballots remaining to the count on Monday.

Maricopa County's update at 5 p.m. showed Sinema expanding her lead, with a 38,197-vote edge overall. Maricopa added 18,637 ballots to the count, with Sinema adding 2,004 votes to her lead in that update. Coconino, Mohave and Pinal counties also released small updates Monday.

The win means Democrats will send a U.S. senator to Washington, D.C. for the first time since Dennis DeConcini won a third term in 1988. It also means that the Democrats will hold a majority of Arizona's entire federal delegation — 5 of 9 U.S. House seats and one of the pair of U.S. Senate seats.

While the Democrats held most of Arizona's House seats just four years ago, the party has not held an edge in the entire combined delegation since 1967.

In addition to being the first female senator from Arizona, Sinema will also be the first openly bisexual person to serve in the Senate.

How things added up

Sinema first racked up a lead late last week, following a day of legal maneuvering and continuing ballot tallies in the race to pick a replacement for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who didn't seek reelection.

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Sinema took a lead of 991,189-970,986 over McSally as Maricopa County reported a new batch of votes at 5 p.m. Friday.

With a narrow lead in the earliest counts, McSally had begun Thursday with a 17,000-vote margin in the race. But Sinema took a 2,000-vote lead as ballots were reported around 5 p.m. Thursday, and then expanded it to 9,000 votes — a margin that held up as more ballots were added to the count from around the state Friday.

But the nearly 40,000-vote swing didn't mean the race was over.

There remained more than 450,000 ballots to count across the state, with the majority in Maricopa County.

Another large batch of uncounted ballots is in Pima County, where some 60,000 ballots remained to be tallied.

Through the weekend, that number was cut to about 219,000 ballots remaining to review by Sunday night.

Republican suit settled; ballot 'cures' to expand, continue

All Arizona counties will continue reviewing ballots through next Wednesday, in a settlement after Republicans — prompted by the close Senate race — first sued to halt allowing voters to verify ballots and then asked to expand process.

A hearing on the suit filed by the Republicans had been scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Under the settlement, all Arizona counties will allow voters who cast early ballots which have signatures that do not match the signatures on file to "cure" their ballots and have them added to the count.

Pima County has long allowed voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day to verify that their signatures on the outside of ballot envelopes are correct if the handwriting is questioned as ballots are checked in the days after the election. Maricopa County adopted the practice this year. Others, such as the GOP-leaning Yavapai County, have not allowed voters to verify any ballots after the polls closed.

New document: Agreement to continue ballot review & 'cures'

Document: GOP complaint re: Senate ballot count

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Document: GOP TRO motion re: Senate ballot count

Document: GOP moves to extend ballot verification

As the early vote count showed just how close the race could be, Republican groups first sued to halt elections officials from contacting voters to verify early ballots handed in on Election Day, but then moved to extend that process through Saturday.

Under the settlement announced Friday, the count will continue through next Wednesday.

With some 600,000 ballots remaining to be reviewed and potentially added to the count, and the margin between GOP candidate Martha McSally and Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema standing at just 17,000 votes Thursday, Republicans sued state and county election officials to bar them from contacting voters whose signatures on early ballots dropped off on Election Day do not match the voter rolls.

After a judge refused on Thursday morning a GOP request to have county officials segregate early ballots with questioned signatures, Republicans on changed course that afternoon. The GOP then wanted the court to order each of Arizona's 15 county recorders to allow voters to verify their signatures through Saturday.

Read more details: Update: Republicans reverse stance on counting early ballots in McSally-Sinema race

The Democrat's campaign said Thursday "when the Maricopa County Recorder releases its first batch of ballots this evening, there will still be approximately half a million votes left to count. Once they are counted, we are confident that Kyrsten Sinema will be the next senator for the state of Arizona."

McSally sued to halt provisional count in 2014

McSally's congressional campaign sued to halt Pima County's count of provisional ballots in the 2014 general election, but a judge refused her move to block adding additional ballots.

McSally's lead eroded as provisional ballots were tallied in that race, which eventually saw her oust U.S. Rep. Ron Barber by just 167 votes after a lengthy recount process.

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Click image to enlarge

Sinema, during a debate with McSally.