Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick prevailed over Southern Arizona Republican Jonathan Paton—and in the process, their congressional race broke spending records.
On election night, Republicans at the Sheraton Tucson were jubilant about the Congressional District 1 race, because following the initially released results, Paton had significant leads in Pima and Graham counties, and had captured 6,000 more early votes than Kirkpatrick in the sprawling district that stretches from Paton's home in Marana to Kirkpatrick's home in Flagstaff.
Though he stopped short of declaring victory, Paton was ready to take on the mantle of being Southern Arizona's conservative voice.
"Keep your faith; keep your head up," Paton said to a crowd of supporters. "The sun is going to come up tomorrow, and I believe we will have conservative representation from Southern Arizona in Washington, D.C."
But when the sun came up on Wednesday, Nov. 7, Kirkpatrick was winning the race by about 6,000 votes. By midday, when the Navajo Nation and Apache County had delivered their votes, Kirkpatrick had a commanding lead of more than 7,000 votes. Although thousands of early and provisional votes remain uncounted, The Associated Press has deemed the difference large enough to declare Kirkpatrick the winner.
Kirkpatrick said she was not surprised by the turnaround and didn't lose any sleep over the race after early results showed her trailing. She waited in her Flagstaff office for a reputable news source to call the race before claiming victory with a statement on the afternoon of Wednesday. Nov. 7.
"The voters of District 1 have spoken, and I will never forget that they are the reason I am returning to Congress," said Kirkpatrick, who represented parts of the area for one term in Congress before losing in 2010. "I will be deeply honored to represent them again. There are few districts in our nation quite like CD 1, and its diversity and complexities are not always understood by outsiders. But the voters of this district ultimately decide who represents them, and their voice has been heard."
Kirkpatrick touched on a crucial point about the recently redistricted CD 1: At about 55,000 square miles, it's the largest congressional district in the state. The district grazes the Utah border to the north and the edge of Cochise County to the south, incorporating Tucson suburbs such as Marana and Oro Valley, as well as the Grand Canyon and a dozen Native American reservations.
Kirkpatrick also thanked Paton for his "spirited" race. Democrats had an 8-point voter-registration lead, but nearly a third of the district is independent.
On Monday, Nov. 12, Paton finally conceded.
"I appreciate your patience as we waited for remaining votes to be counted in our race," he said in a statement. "It's now clear we have come up short. My sincere congratulations go out to Ann Kirkpatrick, and I wish her all the best in addressing the serious issues facing our country."
As of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 13, Kirkpatrick had 48.6 percent of the vote, while Paton had 45.4 percent. Libertarian candidate Kim Allen captured more than 14,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the total.
The race was predicted to be competitive, and millions of dollars in outside ad spending flooded the Phoenix market.
Paton had raised $1.1 million from individuals and political action committees, and Kirkpatrick had collected $2 million as of Oct. 17, according to Commission reports.
But that was a small amount compared to the more than $6.5 million that was spent by outside groups in the race as super-PACs and other organizations worked to level the playing field after the August primary elections. In total, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent just shy of $2.5 million to support Paton and oppose Kirkpatrick, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its close ally, the House Majority PAC, spent $2.4 million to support Kirkpatrick and knock down Paton.
Combined, CD 1 saw the largest outpouring of dollars in any congressional district in the state and broke all previous records for spending in Arizona congressional races. In 2010, when Kirkpatrick sought re-election in what was then Congressional District 1, the race attracted $3.1 million in independent expenditures. Kirkpatrick outspent Republican challenger Paul Gosar in that race, but that didn't keep her from losing: Gosar raised $1,127,837, and Kirkpatrick brought in $1,929,103.
The CD 1 spending reflected the national trend of increasingly expensive campaigns dominated by negative TV ads. If you break down the $6.5 million in outside spending, FEC reports show that GOP groups and their allies spent more than $2.7 million on negative ads that hammered Kirkpatrick on her support for the Affordable Care Act and stimulus spending. Democratic committees also spent more than $2.7 million on ads targeting Paton for his lobbying on behalf of payday-loan companies and his opposition to abortion rights.
Considerably less money was spent to boost the positive images of the candidates. A local plumbing and pipefitting union pitched in $56,996 for Kirkpatrick. Paton benefited from about $940,692 in spending from several PACs, including a $500,000 media buy from the American Future Fund.
Kirkpatrick said that at the end of the day, all of the money spent in the race didn't make that much of a difference.
"Outside spending didn't move the numbers," Kirkpatrick said. "The numbers came in right where we thought they would."