Republican Martha McSally, left, and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, candidates for U.S. Senate.

PHOENIX — The latest returns from the state’s two largest counties have given Kyrsten Sinema the lead in the U.S. Senate race — barely.

New figures late Thursday from the Secretary of State’s Office find the Democrat has opened up a 9,610-vote edge over Republican Martha McSally, out of about 1.9 million votes already counted, or about half a percentage point.

That is a reversal from 24 hours earlier when Sinema trailed by about 15,000.

Those newly counted ballots also have given Democrat Kathy Hoffman the lead in her race for state superintendent of public instruction. She is now up by 20,348 over Republican Frank Riggs; a day ago he had 7,200 more votes than she did.

The Maricopa County recorder said late Thursday he still has about 345,000 ballots left to be processed, while Pima County has about 61,000 still to count. If the trend continues, that will boost the leads of Sinema and Hoffman.

The change in fortunes comes as the Arizona Republican Party and four of its county affiliates are trying to get a judge to block election officials in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Apache counties from counting some late-cast early ballots. Votes in those four counties all were breaking for the Democratic contenders.

At the same time, the Arizona Democratic Party filed its own lawsuit against Maricopa County in a bid to boost the Democrat edge there by helping to “rehabilitate” some ballots that were set aside for a variety of reasons, like lack of identification.

Sinema’s surge comes as Maricopa County elections officials processed an additional approximately 127,000 ballots on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, Sinema had an 8,000-vote edge in the county. But by the end of the day that had tripled, giving her more cushion to offset the lead that McSally has in 10 of the state’s 15 counties.

Sinema, who currently represents a congressional district that takes in portions of Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler, also boosted her lead over McSally by about 7,000 in Pima County, up to more than 44,000. McSally currently represents a congressional district that includes the eastern portion of Pima County as well as Cochise County.

Officials of the McSally camp indicated late Thursday they were not worried, saying they believe the latest batch of ballots to be counted arrived at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on days when Republican early voting turnout was low. They contend the trend will change when the county gets to the approximately 200,000 early ballots dropped off on Election Day, based on their belief that many Republicans who requested early ballots had not turned them in before.

The change of fate for Hoffman also got a boost from Maricopa County, where she opened up a lead of more than 22,000, along with her now having a 55,000-vote edge in Pima County. Here, too, those strong numbers from the two largest counties helped offset the fact that Riggs outpolled her in 10 counties.

But Democrat Katie Hobbs, running for secretary of state, still remains more than 20,000 votes behind Republican Steve Gaynor.

That big dump of heavily Democratic votes in Maricopa County also breathed some new life into the hopes of the party to win a new seat in the state Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, now has a lead of just 808 votes over Democratic challenge Christine Marsh; that’s close to half of just a day ago.

The Maricopa numbers might even provide enough votes for Marsh to oust McGee. If that happens, the Republican margin in the state Senate will be reduced to 16-14.

In Pima County, the latest count puts state Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, further behind in his bid for re-election. He now trails Democrat Domingo DeGrazia by about 2,700 votes.

It could take until early next week for the Pima County Elections Department to finish counting the 61,000 remaining ballots. The ballots include early, provisional, conditional and ones that may need to be duplicated so they can be read by tabulating machines.

County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said her staff will start verifying the approximately 18,300 provisional ballots Friday morning.

Star reporter Joe Ferguson contributed to this story.


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.