McSally wins by 167 votes after recount
Barber concedes race after judge announces election tally
After counting, and counting, and recounting and counting again, Martha McSally has been declared the winner of the CD 2 race. The Republican challenger ousted U.S. Rep. Ron Barber by just 167 votes.
Giving new meaning to the phrase "every vote counts," the razor-thin margin in the congressional election meant that votes were repeatedly tallied. As the initial count found McSally up by only 161 votes, a mandatory hand count of selected precincts was performed as an accuracy check. That verification, done the weekend after the election, found no errors.
Because the margin between Barber and McSally was so narrow, a recount was automatic under Arizona law — the first congressional recount in state history. That process took two weeks to complete, and included another hand-count verification that the machine count was accurate.
With the recount complete, McSally's lead increased by six votes. Throughout CD 2, 109,714 voters cast ballots for McSally, while Barber had 109,547 votes in the final, recounted tally.
"There's no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race," McSally said in a news release. "After what's been a long campaign season, it's time to come together and heal our community. That's why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe."
Barber conceded the race, issuing a statement saying that he had congratulated McSally and "wished her well in serving Southern Arizonans."
"This result is not the one we hoped for, but we take solace in having spoken out loud and clear for the principle that every legal vote should be counted," Barber said. "As in every election system, there are imperfections in ours, and we must work to correct them. When an election is as close as this one has been, we do our best to arrive at the correct result, and then accept it with respect for the voters."
"We're grateful to everyone who devoted their time and resources, especially during the extended vote and recount processes, to get us over the finish line," McSally said. "With the results of the recount now official, we can move forward as one community to bring Southern Arizonans the strong representation they deserve."
"I sincerely thank Congressman Barber for his service over many years to Southern Arizona," she wrote. "I'll be seeking his input to continue strong constituent services and help ensure a smooth transition."
The race was the last undecided congressional election in the country. McSally, who will take her seat when the new Congress meets in early January, has been tapped to be on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.
43 days later
The election tallies took more than a month after the Nov. 4 election to determine a winner in the race — the last congressional election in the country to be decided.
Last week, Pima and Cochise counties finished the machine recount in the race, but results in that count weren't released. First, a hand recount of random ballots was done used to verify the accuracy of the machine count.
The hand count was performed Monday in Pima County on ballots cast at polling places in five percent of CD 2 precincts, as selected by the chairs of the county Democratic and Republican parties. The review covered 2,165 ballots from eight precincts, said county spokesman Mark Evans.
The results of the verification matched "exactly" the machine count last week, county Elections Director Brad Nelson told Evans.
Results from the counties were required to be submitted to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Under Arizona law, the recount results cannot be released until done so by the judge. Cooper announced the results at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
With McSally up by just 161 votes in the first count, a recount in the congressional race was automatic under Arizona law. Another look at the ballots is triggered when the margin is less than 200 votes.
The totals from the initial count in CD 2 were 109,704 for the Republican challenger, and 109,543 for the Democratic incumbent. While a different distribution of votes was a likely result from the recount, compared with the initial count, previous Arizona recounts of even larger ballot pools resulted in changes in the tally that were less than the margin in the CD 2 race.
The last recount at the state level was 2010, when Proposition 112, which would moved up the deadline to file petitions for citizens initiatives, trailed by 126 votes in the official canvass. The recount confirmed that the measure failed, though the margin increased to 192 votes.
In the Barber/McSally race, the final margin was just six votes different than the initial count: 109,714 for McSally, 109,547 for Barber.
Earlier in the CD 2, a move by Barber to include more ballots in the tally was shot down by a judge. Some 133 ballots rejected by elections officials should have been included in the count, Barber said.
Before that, a move by McSally to exclude some provisional ballots from the count was also rejected by a judge.
Both campaigns continued fundraising efforts during the recount, and both played their cards close to the vest regarding any possible legal moves.
While under Arizona law, Barber could file an election challenge, he conceded the race Wednesday, saying, "I extend my gratitude to Southern Arizonans, and promise to carry out a smooth transition to my successor."
"I love Southern Arizona and serving the people who live here was an unexpected honor," Barber wrote. "In 1967, I graduated from the U of A and married Nancy--I figured it couldn't get much better than that. Never in my life did I expect to serve in Congress. For me, the work was a joy to do every day, helping veterans get access to the benefits they earned, keeping middle class families from having their homes foreclosed, pushing the EPA into not closing the power plant in Cochise County that provides a good income to nearly 250 families. I still believe that we can be successful when people from both parties work together -- that's how we stopped the Pentagon from mothballing the A-10 and increased funding for mental health services."
Elections in Southeastern Arizona have been a series of rematches over the past few cycles.
Ron Barber was elected to Congress twice within six months in 2012. He gained his seat in a special election to replace the retiring Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down a year after she was shot in the head in an assassination attempt.
Barber, an aide to Giffords at the time, was shot twice in that incident, which killed six and wounded 11 others.
In that contest, Barber beat two-time Republican candidate Jesse Kelly, who'd lost to Giffords just 18 months before. McSally, who lost the special GOP primary in the spring, ran against Barber and lost again in the November 2012 election. Barber won that race by what was then considered a very narrow margin — 2,454 votes — less than 1 percent of the ballots cast.
For the former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, the third time was the charm.
McSally, who wears a gold aircraft on a chain around her neck, used her military resume and ability to maneuver around controversial issues to appeal to just enough voters in the divided district.
Arizona's 2nd Congressional District is heavy with retirees and military personnel, and includes two major bases: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Ft. Huachuca.
Barber ran on the platform that succeeded for him in 2012, and for Giffords before that: emphasizing Social Security, casting votes on border issues that irked the liberal wing of the Democrats, and hitting his Republican opponent for being too conservative and beholden to the Tea Party.
In an image shift, McSally played down her conservative credentials this time around; in '12, she had to emphasize them in her unsuccessful primary against Kelly.
She also toned down references to her faith that had raised questions among some voters. In 2012, she's said she was "called by God" to run. That phrase didn't crop up two years later.
Instead, she strafed Barber with accusations that he was too tied to the Democratic establishment.
Count and recount
It took eight days of counting votes after Election Day, but with the final batches tallied in the initial count, TucsonSentinel.com declared McSally the winner, while most news organizations held off calling the election. The Air Force veteran held a razor-thin 161-vote lead over Barber — one that triggered an automatic recount after ballots erew canvassed by the state at the beginning of December.
While the outcome of the election wouldn't be official until the judge released the recount tally, the Republican congressional hopeful reinforced her claim to victory by showing up in Washington, D.C., for freshman orientation in mid-November.
With the recount upholding her narrow victory, McSally will be stepping into Barber's shoes in more than one way: she's set to be seated on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.
She announced last week that she's been picked by the Republican caucus to sit on the two committees.
Barber has sat on both Armed Services and Homeland Security, as well as the Small Business Committee.