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Updated Nov 17, 2012, 4:01 pm Originally posted Nov 17, 2012, 12:19 pm
It was the longest of long counts, but scrappy upstart Martha McSally couldn't knock out defending champion Ron Barber.
It took nearly two weeks of counting votes in the narrow race to see who would represent Southern Arizona's 2nd District, but U.S. Rep. Barber declared victory Saturday afternoon, as he led in the tally by 1402 votes.
"I'm going to be eternally grateful for this honor," Barber told about 75 supporters packed into his East Speedway campaign headquarters.
Barber said that Southern Arizona "needs the continued engagement" of both those who voted for him and those who didn't.
"I want to hear from you," he said. "I will do my level best to represent every one of my constituents."
"The campaign is over, but the work has just begun," Barber said.
Barber said Congress must immediately tackle the budget, with sequestration of billions of dollars set to take effect at the beginning of the year.
"The so-called Bush tax cuts need to be dealt with," he said.
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While thousands of ballots remain to be counted, they are all from Pima County, where the incumbent Democrat has a nearly 10,000-vote lead.
The last report from the Secretary of State showed Barber with 143,173 votes, and Republican challenger McSally with 141,771 in the district.
At a Saturday afternoon press conference an hour before Barber spoke, McSally publicly conceded the race.
Standing alone behind a lectern set up outside her North Wilmot campaign office, McSally told about a dozen supporters and campaign volunteers that she was "humbled and thankful" even in a loss.
"Given the prevailing winds," her campaign was "amazing," she said.
"We had tens of thousands of people who did not vote for Romney or Jeff Flake" cast ballots for McSally, she said.
But "we came up a bit short at the end," she said, ascribing Democratic momentum to "presidential headwinds" and support for U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona, as well as an "incumbent connected to Gabrielle Giffords."
While Barber's campaign didn't claim victory Saturday morning, the cover photo on his Facebook page was switched to read "Thank You, Southern Arizona" early in the afternoon.
A morning press release from the Pima County Democratic Party was headlined, "Barber Campaign Takes Pima County, Declares Victory."
"The voters rejected extremism," Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said in that email. "Congressman Barber is a moderate representative, and the voters re-elected him to continue his work on behalf of students, seniors and the middle class."
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Barber was elected earlier in the year to fill the seat left vacant when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resigned.
For Barber, it was a race filled with hitches, fits and starts.
After Giffords resigned, Democrats spent several weeks jockeying for position before announcing their candidacies. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, pushed several potential candidates to get into the race, including her congressional chief of staff, Pia Carusone, as well as Barber and others.
After weeks of consideration, when Barber announced his candidacy in the special election in the spring, he said he hadn't decided whether to run again in the regular fall cycle. A month later, he said he would run in the fall election, causing many of the declared Democratic candidates to drop out of that race—as they all had in the special election.
Even on this latest election night, Barber was delayed: he mounted the podium to speak to supporters just moments before President Obama began giving his victory speech on the projection screens at the Democratic gathering. Barber stood at the speakers' lectern with his wife and family as a ballroom of supporters turned to watch Obama.
When the president wound up his speech, Barber was unable to declare victory himself: the vote count was just too close.
And it would remain that way for nearly two weeks, as updates from Cochise and Pima counties saw the edge between McSally and Barber wax and wane. Late on election night, McSally led by 1,300 votes, but the count switched in the following days, with Barber up 500-700 votes, then 900 as early and provisional ballots from more-populous Pima County were counted.
"Look at this race as an example of why every vote really, really matters," McSally said Saturday.
McSally wouldn't rule out another run in two years, but said that all she was prepared to commit to were getting "a good night's sleep" and a "hike up Mt. Wrightson with Penelope," her dog.