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    Mark Kelly wins re-election in Arizona Senate race, pulling far ahead of Blake Masters

    U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has won re-election, with the Democratic incumbent widening his lead over Republican challenger Blake Masters as votes continue to be counted in the Arizona Senate race, the Tucson Sentinel projects.

    While there are still more than 500,000 ballots yet to be tabulated across the state, Kelly’s vote total is far enough ahead that the GOP candidate will not be able to take the lead, a Sentinel analysis indicates. An update of 79,000 votes from Maricopa County on Thursday evening had a 56-43 split for Kelly, putting the election well out of reach for Masters.

    The win means the Democrats are one step closer to retaining control of the Senate, after one of the most expensive campaigns in the country. Nearly $200 million poured into campaign coffers or was spent by outside interest groups on the race.

    As new ballot totals were updated Thursday, incumbent Democrat Kelly slowly widened his lead by about 20,000 votes, picking up about 56 percent of the 139,000 ballots counted throughout the day.

    Kelly had 1,059,387 votes to Masters’ 944,350 to end Thursday night, giving him a lead of more than 115,000.

    Masters has trailed other top Republican candidates in statewide races. Thursday evening, while Democrats were narrowly leading in nearly all of the competitive top contests for state office, their Republican opponents were virtually tied with them. But Masters was failing to pick up support from voters who filled out their ballots for other GOP candidates.

    While a third candidate in the race, Libertarian Marc Victor, dropped out shortly before the election and endorsed Blake Masters, he still garnered about 2 percent of the vote — some 42,000 ballots, mostly in early voting.

    But that total means he’s far from a spoiler in the race, with Kelly holding a 52-46 percent margin over Masters.

    Masters worked to reassure his supporters Thursday evening, before the latest Maricopa numbers were released.

    “We are seeing the last few big, pro-Dem drops,” he tweeted. “Soon they’ll run out, & then there are hundreds of thousands of pro-R ballots to count. We will overtake them and win.”

    Masters swamped Kelly in in-person voting, with more than 300,000 votes to the Democrat’s 139,000, but has trailed significantly in early ballots — including those dropped off closer to the election. More than 80 percent of the ballots cast in the race were early votes.

    In Maricopa County, a record number of 290,000 early ballots were handed in on Election Day, while about 44,000 were dropped off Tuesday in Pima County.

    To pull out a victory, Masters would have to reverse his fortunes and garner more than 60 percent of the vote from all of the outstanding ballots across the state. About 20% of the ballots submitted in the race remain to be tabulated, although a small percentage will likely not be verified and added to the count.

    While some of the rural areas have favored him, about 60,000 ballots remain from outside Pima and Maricopa counties. Of those ballots, about a third are from voters in areas Masters was trailing: Apache and Coconino counties. About 20% of the ballots counted thus far in the Senate race were cast in-person.

    Trump acolyte Kari Lake was sitting with 60,000 votes more than Masters on Thursday night, though she still trailed slightly in her race for Arizona governor against Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs.

    Kelly ‘confident’ on election night

    Kelly had an 18-point lead as first large batches of early votes were reported Tuesday evening, after the polls closed across Arizona, later falling back by a point or two during the night.

    But races were still too close to call at that point, with too many ballots outstanding, and Republicans were
    banking on ballots cast in-person on Tuesday to make up the
    difference. Kelly didn’t claim victory Tuesday night.

    Speaking around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, after hours of incremental updates in the count, he stopped short of claiming a
    win.

    Thanking supporters at the Rialto Theatre in Downtown Tucson for their hard
    work, Kelly quoted the late U.S. Sen. John McCain in saying “we have so
    much more in common than we disagree about.”

    “Now there is there is no country in the world better at solving big
    problems in the United States of America. We put people on the moon in
    the 1960s. And we’re about to do it again, by the way. And then we’ll go
    on to Mars. We are capable of extraordinary things when we come
    together and just put our minds to it. Yeah, that’s who we are. We
    create, we innovate. We build. That’s what we’re capable of when our
    leaders focus on unity rather than division,” Kelly said.

    “I’ll
    tell you what, I’m feeling confident tonight. At the same time, it
    doesn’t look like we’re gonna have the final results for a little
    while,” Kelly said.

    As more ballots were tallied Wednesday, Masters and other GOP candidates indeed chipped away at the Democrats’ leads in statewide offices — with some of the other Republicans even taking narrow leads.

    But Thursday, after elections officials across the state had completed counting nearly all the in-person votes from Election Day — except for a batch of 17,000 from Maricopa County that officials had problems running through voting machines — they again tackled verifying and tallying the “late early” ballots dropped off Tuesday and the several days preceding.

    There were still more than 518,000 ballots to be counted — including 114,000 in Democratic-leaning Pima County and about
    350,000 in Maricopa County, where Kelly is also leading the race — but officials insisted they are still on
    schedule to complete the count.

    In Maricopa, about 30,000 early ballots remained to be verified Thursday night, among the 350,000 yet to count.

    Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly
    said Thursday that there were about 53,000 ballots here yet to be verified,
    or otherwise “awaiting some portion of the process,” and that the county
    had about 1,000 “problem ballots” were officials were trying to contact
    voters.

    “They have until the 16th at 5 p.m. to return our phone
    call,” she said, telling reporters that the Recorder’s Office attempts
    to contact voters who need to “cure” their ballots by phone, email and a
    mailed letter.

    “This is the standard amount of time that it
    takes; this is what it always takes,” the recorder said. “We’re
    following the law, we’re following the Elections Procedures Manual,”
    calling the pace of the ballot review “kind of phenomenal.”

    Wednesday afternoon, there had been about 160,000 Pima ballots remaining to be counted.

    Constance Hargrove, Pima County’s election director,
    said that county officials and representatives of local political
    parties are prepared to conduct the legally mandated hand-count audit of
    2% of the votes on Saturday.

    Big money

    The race between Kelly and Masters racked up large bills, for the candidates and the outside groups carrying out “independent expenditure” campaigns for or against them.

    Kelly raised more than $81 million as of last month, with $75 million spent before Oct. 19, data from the Federal Election Commission showed.

    Masters raised just more than $12 million, spending $9.6 million as of last month.

    But outside groups spent big on the Republican.

    In support of Masters, independent expenditures totaled $10 million, but another $59 million was spent on ads and mailers opposing Kelly.

    In support of the Democrat, outside groups spent $15 million, with nearly $15 million more spent in opposition to the Republican candidate.

    Kelly’s second election in 2 years

    While U.S. Senate terms last for six years, Kelly has been running in his second election in two years. He defeated U.S. Sen. Martha McSally in a special election in 2020, which determined who would serve out the balance of the term of the late Sen. John McCain, who had been re-elected in 2016 and then died in August 2018. McSally had been appointed to that seat on a temporary basis, replacing fill-in Sen. John Kyl, after losing a 2018 Senate election to Kyrsten Sinema.

    McSally had earlier taken three runs at the Southern Arizona congressional seat that had been filled by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — Mark Kelly’s wife, who was targeted in a 2011 assassination attempt — before beating out Giffords’ Democratic successor, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, by just 176 votes after weeks of counting and recounting the votes.

    The 2022 winner of the Senate election is set to serve out a full six-year term.

    But Arizona isn’t done with frequent Senate races, as Sen. Sinema’s term is up in the next cycle, in the 2024 elections.

    Because of Arizona’s requirement to have a special election to determine who will complete a term when a seat is vacant, rather than just allow the governor to appoint a replacement for the entire balance, the 2026 election cycle will be the first since 2014 without a U.S. Senate race on Arizona ballots. Generally, every third two-year election cycle passes without electing a senator.

    Follow the count

    Even as news organizations “call” political races, elections officials continue to count the votes until the very last ballot. In Arizona, the election canvass — the formal announcement of the results by the secretary of state — does not take place until Dec. 5.

    The most up-to-date vote totals are available at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office site:

    This content was originally published here.

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