Republican Martha McSally said this morning that she feels optimistic that her slight lead in the still-too-close-too-call Congressional District 2 race will hold up, while Democrat Ron Barber's campaign said he is cautiously optimistic and emphasized that it's far too early to call the race.
McSally leads Democrat Ron Barber by less than 1 percentage point, or about 1,300 votes, with tens of thousands of provisional ballots and late arriving early ballots yet to be counted. There are at least 80,000 ballots to be counted in Pima County. In Cochise County, election officials don't yet have an estimate of ballots that need to be tallied.
Both McSally and Barber said they will let election officials count all the ballots and wait to find out the results. It could be days before a winner between McSally and Barber is declared.
While many are calling her lead a potential upset and surprise, McSally said that's not how she views it.
"We're not surprised that we are in this position," she said. "We've been telling people all along that this is going to be a very close race. ... I felt like we were in a strong, steady place all along."
Barber is not scheduled to speak to reporters today, but his campaign sent out a statement highlighting the fact that the race is still too close to call and that Barber won decisively among early voters. That's important because 40,000 of the 80,000 ballots yet to be counted in Pima County are early ballots, said Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.
"We are cautiously optimistic about what the early ballots that were walked in will look like," said Jessica Floyd, Barber's campaign manager.
Floyd said the campaign worked vigorously over the weekend reminding voters that they could turn in early ballots at the polls. Now, it's just a matter or allowing elections to sort out the problems that occurred on election day and make sure all the votes are counted, she said.
"Our main goal here is to make sure that Southern Arizonans are allowed to elect the person they wanted to elect," Floyd said.
McSally said her showing shows that CD2 voters want somebody who is going to take on the establishment in Washington D.C. She likened the race to an overtime football game.
"This is definitely not a traditional ending to our election but I guess there's been nothing traditional about my life so far so why should we start now?" McSally said.
With thousands of provisional and late arriving early ballots still to be counted, it will likely be days before the winner is determined, election officials said.
McSally won big in Cochise County, with 61 percent of the votes, while Barber is leading by a small margin in Pima County, with 51 percent of the votes. Pima County accounts for 80 percent of the district's voters.
Republicans have a 1-percent advantage in voter registration in the district.
Barber, 66, is the current U.S. representative in CD8, having won this summer's special election to complete former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' term.
He was considered the favorite to win this election.
Barber was Giffords' district director from 2007 until her resignation early this year. Before that, he worked 32 years at the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, including as state director, and co-owned a small business with his wife.
Barber was shot twice and suffered nerve damage in his left leg in the January 2011 mass shootings in Tucson, in which six people were killed and 13 wounded, including Giffords.
At the behest of Giffords and her husband, Barber stepped forward to run for her seat. He defeated Republican Jesse Kelly in the June 12 special election.
His pitch to voters is that his deep roots in the community give him in-depth knowledge about the district's issues and its people.
"This is like 2010 all over again," Barber told supporters after midnight this morning, referring to Giffords' tight victory over Kelly that year, which was too close to call on that election night.
"It's close, but we know all the ballots are going to be counted in due course," Barber added.
McSally, 46, is a retired Air Force colonel trying to make the jump to the U.S. House.
She finished second in the four-person GOP primary in the special election, but came back to win the primary in CD2 and was close to pulling off what many would consider an upset.
She told voters this campaign that the leadership and moral courage she demonstrated during her 26-year career in the Air Force prepared her well for Congress. Comparing herself to Barber, McSally called herself a leader and Barber a follower.
Her career brought her to Southern Arizona in 1994 for A-10 pilot training at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Since that first stint at Davis-Monthan, McSally has lived here for about 10 years between assignments elsewhere.
Outside political groups spent nearly $2 million on the race, bankrolling a blitz of TV ads.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BradyMcCombs.