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Grijalva wins 9th term in Congress

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva easily won a ninth term Tuesday, holding off Republican challenger Nick Pierson with a 61-39 percent lead.

Grijalva, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and a leader of the House Progressive Caucus, led his GOP opponent by more than 20,000 votes in the early returns. But Pierson refused to conceded the race Tuesday night.

Grijalva said the election was a referendum on the bad instincts of the Trump administration, saying there's "no time to rest on laurels. We have a challenge ahead of us and I'm looking forward to meet that challenge."

"We’re going to set the table for the American people," the congressman told Democrats gathered at the Doubletree Hotel for election night. "The House is the touchstone for the American people. And this sets the template for 2020, and we're on our way to resetting this democracy of ours."

While many races around the country were still too close to call, predictions were that the Democrats will easily pick up enough seats to gain the majority in the House of Representatives.

That would put Grijalva's party in the driver's seat for a good deal of legislation — and make him the incoming chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.

"Setting the table" means "pushing forward bills, that while the Senate may not pass, and may be vetoed by the president," the situation "shouldn't hold us back," the congressman said. Grijalva wants to work on an infrastructure bill in January, and work on healthcare legislation. He also said that the House controls the federal purse strings, so the Homeland Security and the Defense departments "will face some scrutiny" for sending more than 5,000 troops to the border, noting that an initial deployment of 1,500 troops has already cost around $185 million.

"Extrapolate from that," he said.

Pierson, a 69-year-old financial advisor who attempted to unseat Grijalva, said he realizes it was "absolutely" an uphill battle but that his bucket list for decades has included a desire to beat the longtime Southern Arizona Democrat.

Pierson had earlier in the race said Grijalva was "not a good example of a Mexican American, and he's not a good example of an American."

Arizona's 3rd Congressional District includes Tucson's West Side, and extends across the state's western deserts to Yuma, while encompassing a portion of the southwestern Phoenix metro area. It is 43 percent Democrat, with just 20 percent of CD 3 voters registered Republicans.

Despite trailing by a large margin, Pierson wouldn't concede the race Tuesday night.

"It’s an important time. We need strong leaders. We feel very good. My fans are very excited but at the same time, I can handle whatever happens. Either way, we’re going to be better for what we’ve done for the community," he said.

Local GOP boosters didn't give Pierson's campaign much of a chance, demonstrating that with their tepid financial backing. Grijalva raised more than 10 times what Pierson pulled in for his campaign, some $600,000 to about $50,000.

Pima County GOP Chairman David Eppihimer told a dwindling crowd to head home from the Republican gathering a bit after 10 p.m., announcing that Pierson was still hopeful.

"He's going to go home tonight and sleep on this and wait for tomorrow's returns," Eppihimer said. "He'd like to see where the votes are coming in. There are some areas he knows he's won. He feels, we feel that there are enough votes to sway this election in his favor."

Eppihimer had earlier said that Pierson was waiting on returns from Yuma — despite election officials reporting that 96 percent of the precincts there had already been tallied at that point, with Grijalva taking 58 percent of the vote.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva speaking Tuesday night.