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Romero runs away with Tucson mayoral primary

Santa Cruz wins Ward 1 Democratic primary

Regina Romero won Tucson's Democratic primary for mayor by more than 6,000 votes, leading Steve Farley and Randi Dorman. Lane Santa Cruz won the Democrats' four-way Ward 1 Council race.

As results showed up on a screen in a packed room at the American Eat Co. restaurant Tuesday night, Romero and her supporters celebrated, following up their applause with a chant of "Si Se Puede" and loud cheers. She led by about 6,000 votes in the initial results — a margin that held up as the count was updated Thursday.

The Democratic primaries for mayor and Ward 1 Council may be decisive, with no Republican on the ballot for the top seat, and write-in Republican Sam Nagy struggling to gain access to the general election ballot on the West Side. The Green Party's Mike Cease earned a spot on the November mayoral ballot by obtaining enough write-in votes Tuesday, as did three Green candidates for Council. Independent candidate Ed Ackerley will also be on the ballot.

More than 58,000 ballots were returned before Election Day, with a spike in participation driven by the first contested Democratic mayoral primary in years. Another 1,000 or so mail-in ballots were received Tuesday, along with other ballots dropped off in person at seven sites around the city. Thursday, election officials released a tally of 62,511 ballots — just slightly more than 24 percent voter turnout in the primary.

The first results, including the vast majority of the votes cast, were released just after 8 p.m., with Romero up 22,225 to just less than 17,000 for Farley, and 5,600 for political upstart Randi Dorman.

In results released Thursday afternoon, Romero led 24,549 to 18,157 for Farley and 6,099 for Dorman, ticking the winner just over the 50 percent line in the totals.

Romero said Tuesday night that turnout exceeded their expectation and the three biggest issues she heard at the door were new roads and infrastructure, public education funding, and climate change.

Romero said that "at the end of the day it was about working with groups that aren't traditionally worked with. I mean we had amazing support from unions, support from environmental groups, with LGBTQ, with Planned Parenthood, women's empowerment and reproductive rights."

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She said they had "a really diverse coalition of hard workers and then people power. It was all about the volunteers showing up and knocking on those doors."

Santa Cruz, a former Romero aide who'll face Nagy — who tried and failed to run for mayor on the Republican ticket — in the November race for the Ward 1 Council seat, said the results hold "a lesson for everyone: Do not underestimate the moms."

"I'm super-proud," she said. "We all did this together. I know we still have to get through the general, but this brings us closer to the just world we all want. Never in my life did I think I'd make this kind of speech."

Farley, who was waiting on election returns at the Arizona Inn with his supporters, congratulated Romero on her victory and declared his support for his Democratic opponent.

"While I'm disappointed in the result, I stand behind the will of the people and support Romero to be our next mayor," said the former state legislator last year's losing Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate.

"Tucson has many challenges ahead of us, from climate change to affordable housing to our notorious potholes and infrastructure issues," Farley said. "We should all support Romero as mayor, because our new mayor will need ideas and participation from all Tucsonans. This is our city, all of us together."

Dorman, at her primary-night gathering at Maynard's restaurant, said she's "going to look forward to working with Regina, and helping her win.

"Let's just keep going for Tucson," she told her supporters, tearing up in her concession speech.

I do want to thank Regina and Steve; they ran passionate races," she said. "Tucson is on the cusp of a renaissance. The decisions we make for the next four years are going to have an impact for the next 40."

Dorman said her campaign worked to get beyond "the political baloney" and that she was proud of her "focus on the issues."

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Romero and Santa Cruz showed up to celebrate with Democrats at a general party gathering at Reilly Pizza downtown later Tuesday night. Dorman joined that crowd, urging support for Romero's campaign.

Tucson's city elections are "all mail-in," with each registered voter sent a ballot. Municipal elections are run by local city officials.

The only contested races were in the Democratic mayoral primary, and the Democratic primary for the Ward 1 Council seat, on the West Side. There were uncontested Democratic and Republican primary races, with such a single candidate from each party, in Wards 2 and 4, on the East Side. There was a single registered write-in candidate for the GOP in Ward 1, and a Green Party write-in candidate for each office that's up for a vote. There are no Libertarian candidates running, nor are there any Republican mayoral candidates.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face independent Ed Ackerley in November, along with Green Party write-in candidate Mike Cease, who garnered 81 write-in votes and beat the bar of 18 he needed to appear on the ballot in the general election.

Two Green candidates for Council, William Peterson (Ward 2) and Cara Bissell (Ward 4), easily cleared the bar of 2 write-in votes apiece to appear on the ballot. Matthew Smith (Ward 1) got 6 write-in votes, and his name will also be listed in November.

Wards 3, 5 and 6 are not electing members of the Council this year; the four-year terms are staggered. Voters in those wards are only eligible to cast primary votes in the mayor's race this year. In the November election, voters across the city will cast ballots for mayor and all of the Council races.

Unlike the presidential preference election, the primary is open; "independent" non-party voters can select one of the partisan ballots to cast.

Only votes cast for candidates who qualified to be listed on the ballot, and registered write-in candidates, are counted.

About 58,000 ballots were included in the initial tally released Tuesday night, with another 4,500 remaining to be verified and added to the county — mostly ballots dropped off on Election Day. Those figures were updated Thursday.

Primary election results - Contested races

Democratic mayoral primary

Candidate Votes%
Randi Dorman 6,099 12
Steve Farley 18,157 37
Regina Romero 24,549 50

Democratic Ward 1 primary

Candidate Votes%
Rob Elias 1,760 21
Sami Hamed 1,290 15
Miguel Ortega 1,739 20
Lane Santa Cruz 3,735 44

Uncontested races

Candidate Votes%
Paul Cunningham, Ward 2 D 8,243 98
Ewart Williams, Ward 2 R 5,001 98
Nikki Lee, Ward 4 D 5,238 98
Mike Hicks, Ward 4 R 4,120 98
Sam Nagy, Ward 1 R (write-in) 236 47
Mike Cease, mayor G (write-in) 91 60
Matthew Smith, Ward 1 G (write-in) 6 33
William Peterson, Ward 2 G (write-in) 25 80
Cara Bissell, Ward 4 G (write-in) 11 91

TucsonSentinel.com’s Alana Minkler contributed to this story.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Regina Romero celebrating with supporters as election results are released Tuesday night.