Voters are going to have to wait to find out if Democratic council incumbent Shirley Scott will hold on to her seat in the face of a challenge from Republican Tyler Vogt.
With 8,400 outstanding ballots still to count, Scott was edging out Vogt with 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent. Final results should be tabulated late Thursday.
In Ward 1, Councilwoman Regina Romero beat back a challenge from Green Party candidate Beryl Baker, who claimed 34 percent of the vote, despite the Green's tiny voter-registration numbers and being outspent $100,000 to $1,200. More than 10,600 voters left the race blank on their ballots.
Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham, appointed to fill a vacant seat on the council last year, will serve his own full term now, with Republican challenger Jennifer Rawson collecting 43 percent to Cunningham's 57 percent.
City Clerk Roger Randolph estimated the 8,400 ballots remaining include about 6,900 turned in at the seven voting locations throughout town on Election Day. He expected turnout to hit 40 percent - just shy of the 1999 record of 41 percent.
Scott, speaking to joyful Democrats celebrating taking back the mayor's seat after a 12-year hiatus, said it was a "glorious evening" for her party. And while she said her supporters remained confident she won, she said she would wait for any declaration of victory until the final votes were counted.
Speaking at a crowded GOP celebration at the Manning House downtown, prior to the results being released, Vogt said the race was successful, no matter the outcome. "Whether or not we win this election, we have changed the debate in this city," he said.
Later, Vogt said he had no plans to concede. "I think we've still got a good shot," he said, adding, "I'm going to go golfing tomorrow and we'll wait and see."
While Democrats note Vogt would have to collect a majority of the outstanding votes to win, since he trails by 1,700 votes, Republicans said they suspected that the people who voted at the polls on Election Day actually do skew Republican, many of whom protested the city's all-mail ballots.
Prior to the results, the mood at the Republican camp was upbeat, with the party's Executive Director Linda White saying the party made a record 100,000 phone calls this election. "City taxpayers have had enough and want a change," she said, adding even one seat would be a victory.
But the party grew silent as the results were read. By 8:30 p.m., the bulk of the crowd left.
Rawson refused to concede until every vote is counted, even though she trails by more than 10,000 votes, with just 8,400 left to count. "Those people's votes deserve to be counted," she said.
Political science professor and former Democratic Mayor Tom Volgy had no problem squaring the fact voters are clearly unhappy with the city's direction and yet perfectly willing to accept the status quo.
Because of the difficult economic conditions, Volgy said, people aren't happy. "People don't like what the Democrats are doing but they also really don't like what the Republicans are doing, so the automatic knee-jerk vote against incumbents is getting severely tested," he said.
Clearly, he said, Scott was the most vulnerable of the incumbents, which he attributed to her tenure. "Voters don't like people being there forever, and it's hard to overcome that, no matter how good you are."
Arizona Republican national committeeman Bruce Ash, who spearheaded an independent campaign supporting the Republican slate, said Tucson voters missed an opportunity to provide a diversity of voices on the council.
If it turns out Scott keeps her seat, Ash said, "This is going to be looked at as a green light for business as usual, so it's going to be harder for Jonathan Rothschild and Paul Cunningham - because they do represent some change from a Democrat status quo - to really work with (Republican Councilman) Steve Kozachik to make substantive changes."
Ash chalked the loss up to the Democratic registration advantage, which makes it difficult for Republicans to win an at-large City Council race, combined with the all-mail election.
Reporters Rob O'Dell and Carmen Duarte contributed to this report. Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.