McSally-Sinema update: As uncounted ballots dwindle, Kyrsten Sinema’s lead grows again

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema expanded her narrow lead in Arizona’s U.S. Senate on Saturday with gains in Maricopa and Pima counties erasing smaller losses to Republican Martha McSally elsewhere around the state.

Sinema’s lead grew to 29,832 votes as of 7 p.m. and gave her a 1.4 percentage point advantage.

Overall, Sinema has 1,048,655 votes and McSally has 1,018,823. Green Party candidate Angela Green has 49,584.

The Arizona Republic estimates there are 260,000 ballots still to be counted in the state. The number for Maricopa County is 198,000, where, so far, Sinema has been winning by 3.5 percentage points.

While McSally’s vote deficit grew, Republicans took aim at the election process. In a statement Saturday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, saying he “has been using his position to cook the books for Kyrsten Sinema.”

The Arizona Republican Party noted Saturday that it had filed a public-records request Saturday of Fontes and alleged “questionable and possibly illegal decisions made by Adrian Fontes, including opening voter centers for non-emergencies the weekend before the election, and curing ballots in the general, but not the primary election.”

Republicans are seeking “all communications between Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes’ Office and the Sinema campaign and her allies,” the state GOP announced.

McSally had shaved more than 1,600 votes off Sinema’s lead throughout the day Saturday by doing well in Gila, Mohave, Navajo and Pinal counties. Sinema, however, continued to pile up sizable leads from Arizona’s population centers.

For now, Sinema is ahead in Maricopa and Pima counties by a net 94,273 votes. McSally’s lead in the state’s other 13 counties is 64,441.

Sinema’s campaign said they remained on track to win, but McSally’s campaign still saw promise in the day’s returns.

“Make no mistake: this was an incredibly disappointing day for Martha McSally,” said Andrew Piatt, Sinema’s campaign manager, in a statement. “Her meager gains in the rural counties were totally wiped out by Kyrsten’s continued strong performance in Maricopa County and across the state. Here’s where things stand: McSally gained 47,837 votes and Kyrsten gained 57,466 votes to grow her lead to 29,832 votes or 1.41 percent. McSally can hope for a miracle tomorrow night but the data show it won’t happen.”

McSally’s campaign said they remain confident she will do better with the votes that remain.

“Today, our vote total grew at a greater rate than expected, and we expanded our vote margins in rural areas counting mail-in ballots dropped off on Election Day,” said Jim Bognet, McSally’s campaign CEO. “The latest release provides compelling evidence that the remaining uncounted ballots are favorable to Martha. And we will continue our effort to make sure all lawful ballots are counted.”

Arizona’s protracted vote-count is due in large part to the need to verify signatures for those who vote by mail, which represents the bulk of ballots.

Mapping Sinema, McSally support, precinct by precinct

When ballots have been tabulated, McSally has not won any batch of votes in Maricopa County, including early votes posted on Election Day, votes cast at polling places on Election Day, and early ballots counted since. 

It is unclear if McSally will be able to limit her losses in a meaningful way, even with a legal settlement struck Friday over the handling of certain ballots by county elections officials in other parts of the state.

That settlement could favor McSally by helping her pick up votes in counties outside of the more populated areas of the state.

Sinema, a three-term congresswoman who represents the Phoenix-area’s 9th Congressional District, cast herself as an “independent” voice for Arizona and distanced herself from other Democrats. That message has likely helped her in Maricopa County, particularly in the suburbs and among moderate women.

McSally, who has represented the Tucson-based 2nd Congressional District for two terms, positioned herself as loyal to President Donald Trump and the Republican agenda, from the health-care overhaul to border security. That message likely played well in rural Arizona, but she has struggled notably in Pima County, most of which is in her district.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed to a report by Fox News that Fontes once defended a man in the “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-running ring during the Obama administration and said Fontes had been caught mixing tainted ballots with legitimate ones.

The Arizona GOP said Fontes has misled the public about the voting process and had requested records of “all communications between Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes’ Office and the Sinema campaign and her allies.”

“Adrian Fontes has intentionally circumvented the legislative and judicial process during this election,” said Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines. “He is a liberal activist masquerading as an election official, and we cannot trust him to oversee this process. Arizonans have a right to know what liberal parties Fontes is communicating with about this race, and what he is telling them. What is Adrian Fontes hiding?”

The attacks on Fontes picked up on President Donald Trump’s comments Friday suggesting without evidence that Arizona is engaged in “electoral corruption.” 

Fontes, who could not be reached for comment Saturday, has denied the Republican allegation that he has destroyed evidence.

“There are two parts to this issue, the ballot and the envelope,” Fontes said Friday in a written statement. “The GOP asked me to sequester both as evidence. Keeping the ballots separate and uncounted is illegal, and I refuse to disenfranchise voters. But, I still have the envelopes. So if they want to sue me for something, I understand the Clerk’s Office is open until 5 p.m.”

The GOP has similarly cast doubt on vote-counting efforts in Florida as that state’s senate and gubernatorial races fell into recount territory, with Republicans holding to narrow leads in both races.

Sinema’s biggest lead remains in Pima County, wider even than in Maricopa County, which has more than three times as many ballots in the race.

McSally’s best bet appears to lie with voters in Maricopa County who dropped their early ballots off at the polls on Election Day. But there is another problem for McSally.

As the tally turns to provisional ballots, past experience suggests that group tends to trend Democratic. The effect will be even larger in traditional Democratic counties such as Pima County.

On Friday, there were 18,000 provisionals in Pima County, where McSally’s vote-gap is worst, and another 1,000 in Santa Cruz, where Sinema has been winning by 40 percentage points.

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