Flagstaff Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick has defeated Republican Jonathan Paton in Arizona's vast Congressional District 1, the Associated Press has concluded.

Kirkpatrick pulled ahead of Paton, of Marana, when thousands of votes from the Navajo Nation were counted overnight. At present, Kirkpatrick has 48.8 percent of the votes, to Paton's 45.3 percent.

Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press canvassed the counties in the vast district and found the 7,354-vote margin is too large for Paton to overcome.

Kirkpatrick said early Wednesday that she was waiting for the AP to declare her the victor before she declared victory.

Late Tuesday night, Paton predicted that he would win, based on where the votes were still left to count. But today, he said his campaign had underestimated the number of ballots yet to count in Apache County, which tends to favor Kirkpatrick.

"The overnight reporting was largely from Apache County, Navajo Nation precincts," said Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for Kirkpatrick.

In fact, she said, during the hours of Tuesday night when Paton led Kirkpatrick, little or none of the Navajo Nation had been counted, leaving a false impression of the direction of the race. The two remaining precincts are on the Navajo and White Mountain Apache reservations, she said.

"You're seeing overwhelming support (for Kirkpatrick) from tribal precincts," Johnson said. "We feel very good about where we are."

Kirkpatrick said she is waiting for a major news organization, such as the Associated Press, to call the race before she declares victory. She and her team are at the campaign's Flagstaff office.

Paton noted that there are still thousands of provisional ballots to be counted in Pima County, which favors him, as well as thousands of early ballots. 

In all of Pima County — only a small portion of which falls into CD1 — there are about 40,000 provisional ballots and 40,000 early ballots yet to count.

In a statement, Paton said: “I am deeply honored that so many Arizonans cast their ballots for our campaign. After a long night, our race is still too close to call. Currently, there are reports of tens of thousands of uncounted votes in Pima County alone. In our democracy, it is important that every legally cast vote is counted, and we will continue to monitor the results.”

The race drew considerable national attention - and spending. Outside groups poured $6.5 million into the race, making it the most expensive congressional campaign in Arizona. The biggest spender was the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spent $2.5 million in the race in what it hoped would become a pickup of an open seat.

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who held the district's seat before redistricting, chose to move to Prescott and run in the new Congressional District 4.

District 1 covers 55,000 square miles - about half the state of Arizona. For the candidate, it's an unforgivingly complex cultural landscape, with suburban voters northwest of Tucson, farmers in Pinal County, miners in the Copper Basin, Mormon towns on the Mogollon Rim, and 12 Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation.

Voter registration figures give Democrats the advantage in the district, with 38 percent of the registered voters to 31 percent for Republicans and 30 percent independent. But Paton's camp banked on the idea that many of the Democrats are conservatives, some of them Mormon, who might vote for a Republican.

Kirkpatrick presented herself as a moderate Democrat and a child of the district, having grown up in the White Mountains and having spent her adult life in Flagstaff and Sedona.

Her campaign pointed out that Paton was a newcomer to the district, having moved to Marana only recently. They also tried to tie him to his past as a registered lobbyist who did some work for the payday-loan industry.

But Paton presented Kirkpatrick as a spendthrift liberal who would vote lockstep with President Obama. He said he would present a check on Obama's power.

In a speech Tuesday night, Paton called the voters' choice one of a "rubber stamp or a "check-and-balance."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.