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A Close Shave

Eleven days after voting ended, Rep. Ron Barber declares victory

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In a campaign office packed with nearly 200 supporters, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber declared victory on Saturday, Nov. 17.

"It's been a long wait, but here we are," Barber told the rowdy crowd. "I want to thank you all for coming out and helping us celebrate today."

An hour earlier across town, Republican challenger Martha McSally had conceded the Congressional District 2 race.

With a small group of supporters standing off to the side, McSally told reporters that—in between performances of the national anthem at a few El Tour de Tucson events—she had called Barber "to congratulate him on representing the people of Southern Arizona."

The twin speeches brought an end to a race that had run into overtime as officials in both Cochise and Pima counties tabulated early and provisional ballots. Although Barber took an early lead when the first ballots were counted on Election Day, McSally came roaring back and led the race by more than 1,000 votes on the day after the election.

Over the next few days, the vote count moved back and forth, with Barber gaining ground as Pima County completed its daily batch of ballots, and McSally retaking the lead when Cochise County tabulated its ballots. On Friday, Nov. 9, McSally's lead was a mere 36 votes.

Barber took the lead on Saturday, Nov. 10, and hung on from that point. When Cochise County finished counting all of its ballots on Thursday, Nov. 15, Barber had a lead of 709 votes. When Pima County completed its first major count of provisional ballots on Friday, Nov. 16, his lead had climbed to 1,402 ballots.

Although Pima County still had more provisional ballots to count at that point, McSally recognized the trend was moving in Barber's direction.

"We came so close," said McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot who had been stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base between deployments.

McSally said the extended vote count "reminds me of running the Ironman triathlon ... and coming up on the finish line, only to find out you had to run another 10k. It's a horrible feeling, but I'll tell you: Our team and everybody who's been supporting us through the last 11 days have been extraordinary."

At Barber's campaign headquarters, a jubilant crowd of supporters chanted "We want Ron!" as Barber entered the room.

Barber thanked his wife, Nancy, and their family for their support, and praised his campaign team and volunteers for the effort they put forth.

"I'm deeply grateful to everyone who supported me in this campaign," Barber said.

Barber, a former aide to Gabrielle Giffords who was first elected to Congress in a June special election to complete Giffords' term, said much work remained to be done in Washington.

"With the campaign over, I'm getting back to work," said Barber, who had just returned from Washington on Friday night.

He told the crowd that after Thanksgiving, he'd be returning to D.C. to take up work "that has unfortunately been left too long undone. We have many important decisions to make, and in order to make those decisions and do what's right, we have to find compromise, and we have to find bipartisanship. That's the only way we're going to get this job done."

Barber said he wanted to return to the House Armed Services Committee to continue to support benefits for veterans, and he promised to continue to fight to preserve tax cuts for middle-class Americans while supporting a tax hike for the wealthiest as part of a budget deal.

He also said he would continue to fight for "a woman's right for equal pay for equal work, and a woman's right to health care that does not treat her gender like a pre-existing condition. And we absolutely must protect a woman's right to make her own health-care decisions."

He called on his volunteers to remain engaged.

"I cannot do the things we have been talking about alone," Barber said. "I need the continued engagement of all of you. You are very active citizens, but you need to stay active. The campaign is over, but the work is just beginning."

When Pima County finished tabulating all of its provisional ballots on Monday, Nov. 19, Barber led the race by 2,454 votes, 147,338 to 144,884, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Barber's re-election means that Democrats have captured five of the state's nine U.S. House seats. Republicans now hold four seats where they have a steep voter-registration advantage, while Democrats Raúl Grijalva and Ed Pastor hold the seats that have a significant Democratic advantage and Latino population.

In the state's three competitive districts, Barber joined fellow Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff and Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix as 2012 winners.

Asked what was next for her, McSally said she hoped for a good night's sleep and then a hike on Mount Wrightson with her dog, Penelope.

"I'm going to continue to serve and continue to make a difference," McSally said. "I look forward to seeking out what the next steps are. I want to live every day like it's my last, and make a difference in my community and my nation."

She said she had not yet decided whether to seek a rematch in 2014.

"Let's get through Thanksgiving, OK?" McSally said with a laugh. "I don't want to rule anything out, but I really don't want to talk about it right now."

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