The sun sets at a local polling station Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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PHOENIX (AP) — A changing electorate in Arizona handed historic victories to Democrats in the former Republican stronghold, with Joe Biden becoming only the second Democratic presidential candidate since 1948 to win the state. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly’s win gave the party both Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The extraordinary turn of events had been building in a state long associated with late Sens. Barry Goldwater and John McCain, who were the Republican nominees for president in 1964 and 2008, respectively.

Democrats benefited from Arizona’s changing demographics, with more young people and Latinos registering to vote, an influx of new residents and unease among some suburban women about President Donald Trump.

Trump and his allies made an aggressive, but ultimately futile, push to hold on to Arizona, which he won by 3.5 percentage points in 2016.

In a narrowing presidential contest, Biden got Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by winning over swing voters who split their tickets two years ago to elect a Republican governor and a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, Kelly beat Republican Sen. Martha McSally for the seat once held by McCain, a popular senator who often sparred with Trump. The senator’s wife, Cindy McCain, threw her support behind Biden, citing the president’s disparagement of her husband.

McSally was appointed to McCain’s seat following his death two years ago. She had lost in 2018 to Kyrsten Sinema, who became the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona in 30 years — a race that illustrated the changing nature of the state.

McSally’s campaign said it was still monitoring returns Wednesday morning.

“Hundreds of thousands of votes have still not been counted,” her spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg said in a statement. “Every Arizonan deserves to have their voice heard and vote counted.”

Arizona hasn’t had two Democratic senators since Earnest McFarland lost his reelection bid in 1952. Tuesday’s win by Kelly, who will join Sinema in Washington, could prove crucial in determining which party controls the Senate.

Kelly is perhaps best known in Arizona for being married to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 in an assassination attempt in Tucson.

Before the race was called, Kelly said he was “confident that when all the votes are counted, we’re going to be successful in this mission.”

The state was also in play down the ballot, giving Democrats a realistic shot even at winning control of the state Legislature.

Voters approved an initiative allowing Arizona to join other states that have legalized recreational marijuana but it was too early to call another initiative that would tax the rich more to pay for schools because not enough votes had been counted.

Registered Democrat Jeff Gusoer, a Phoenix resident who manages nightclubs in other states, said he flew home from St. Louis, Missouri to vote for Biden and try to ensure Trump did not take Arizona.

“He’s mishandled the coronavirus but it’s so much beyond that,” said Gusoer, 34, who had COVID-19 in April and has since recovered.

Brandon Ross, 27, a Republican financial adviser and Phoenix resident, said he voted for Trump this time and in 2016. He said he understands Trump’s demeanor rubs some people the wrong way but backs the president's policies on the economy and civil liberties.

“What he supports is by and large what I support,” Ross said.

Speaking early Wednesday from the White House, Trump said many Arizona votes were outstanding and “there’s a possibility, maybe even a good possibility” that he could win despite the deficit.

Bill Clinton was the most recent Democratic presidential candidate to take Arizona, winning with 46% of the vote in 1996, helped by Ross Perot’s strong third-party bid. Before that, the last time Arizona selected a Democrat for president was in 1948 with Harry Truman.

The makeup of the state’s U.S. House delegation was also on the line, with all nine incumbents facing challenges. But reelected were Republicans Debbie Lesko in the 8th Congressional District, Paul Gosar in the 4th District and Andy Biggs in the 5th.

Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick in the 2nd District, Raul Grijalva in the 3rd, Ruben Gallego in the 7th and Greg Stanton in the 9th kept their seats.

Republican Rep. David Schweikert, haunted by an ethics probe, was in a close race against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in a district that has historically favored the GOP.

Republicans also hoped to topple Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 1st District.


Associated Press writers Terry Tang, Bob Christie, Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.


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