Arizona Democrats surged to large leads. Now, they wait to see if their advantage holds.

By: , and - November 8, 2022 9:52 pm

A sign outside Burton Barr Public Library in Phoenix on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

With Republicans expected to show up at the polls in person in droves on Election Day, Democrats knew they would need a large advantage among early voters to have a chance at winning hotly contested statewide races.

And with all of those early ballots counted, they had bigger than expected leads in many of those races.

A common refrain on Tuesday from political observers was that Democrats needed to be up by at least eight points on their GOP opponents to have a shot at holding on as Election Day ballots were tabulated during the night and early ballots dropped off at polling places were counted later in the week. If Democrats could manage 10-point leads, the conventional wisdom went, they’d be in strong positions.

Many Democrats found themselves with even larger leads once early ballots were counted.

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly was up by more than 18 points on GOP newcomer Blake Masters, 58% to about 40%. 

Democratic candidate for Arizona governor Katie Hobbs was outstripping her Republican opponent Kari Lake 57% to 43%. 

Adrian Fontes, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, had 59% of the vote to Republican Mark Finchem’s less than 41%. 

Attorney general candidate Kris Mayes was leading Abe Hamadeh, her GOP opponent, 57% to 43%. 

And incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman was far ahead of Republican challenger Tom Horne, 56% to 44%.

Those percentages reflect early voting numbers out of all Arizona counties except for Apache, which was delayed in releasing results. 

“We feel cautiously optimistic about these very early results. Being up 10-20 points without Apache County is a good place to be,” said Democratic campaign consultant Adam Kinsey, who is working on both the Mayes and Hoffman campaigns. He noted that Apache County is home to most of the Navajo Nation, which reliably supports Democratic candidates.

The initial results included only early ballots received before Monday, and did not reflect any votes cast in-person on Election Day. Because many Republicans waited to vote in-person on Tuesday, early results were expected to favor Democratic candidates. 

But as Election Day ballots were added to the mix, Republicans made headway into those Democratic leads. By 1:30 Wednesday morning, Kelly’s lead had shrunk to about 9 percentage points, while Lake had closed to within about 4.5 points of Hobbs. 

Fontes was maintaining a nearly 9-point advantage over Finchem, while Mayes nursed a 4.2-point lead over Hamadeh. Meanwhile, Hoffman saw her lead shrink to just 3.6 percentage points.

“We’ve seen the first results come in, and we are feeling good about what we’re seeing,” Hobbs told the crowd gathered to watch the results at the Arizona Democratic Party’s Election Night event. 

Fontes also urged attendees at the Democratic Party event to have patience as the ballots are counted in the coming days 

“We will make sure every vote gets counted across this great state,” Fontes said, adding that he was optimistic about the early results. “Regardless of the results, we have good people working to preserve and protect democracy.” 

Kinsey cautioned that the early results will change dramatically.

“We’ve been here before, and we don’t want to get too high before the day-of red wave comes in and brings us crashing back to reality,” he said. “I think these races will all tighten up considerably.”

Election Day was marred in Maricopa County by problems with ballot tabulators at about 60 of the county’s 223 voting centers. 

Lake, a Trump-endorsed 2020 election denier, railed against the tabulation issues in Maricopa County on Tuesday and was one of the Republican plaintiffs in a suit filed late in the day  demanding the polls stay open until 10 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. because of those issues. 

But a judge denied the request to keep the polls open, saying that he didn’t see any evidence that anyone was denied the right to vote. 

Hobbs, who has served as secretary of state since 2019, criticized Lake for spending Election Day chastising local election officials and telling voters who experienced problems at the polls not to leave their ballot in a secure container so it could be counted Tuesday night. 

“We know my opponent and her allies have been sowing doubt and confusion throughout this campaign, and it’s unacceptable that they were spreading misinformation today while people were exercising their right to vote,” Hobbs said. “I have every confidence that the counties administering this election conducted a free and fair election, and their results will be accurate. But they will take time, so prepare for a long evening and a few more days of counting.”

Lake said Tuesday that she and her family decided to cast their ballots in an area of Phoenix that leans Democratic because she believed those polling places were having fewer issues than ones in Republican areas. 

“Guess what? They’ve had zero problems with their machines today,” she said. “Not one machine spit out a ballot today, in a very liberal area. So, we were right to vote in a liberal area.” 

In answer to a question from an NBC news reporter, Lake said she hadn’t suggested that Tuesday’s election wasn’t going to be fair and accurate. 

“This is incompetency,” Lake said. “I hope it’s not malice…When we win, there’s going to be ‘come to Jesus’ for elections in Arizona.”

Lake, a former local TV news anchor, has castigated the media, calling some of them “fake news propagandists.”

“I’m going to be your worst freaking nightmare for eight years,” Lake told members of the media on Tuesday. “And we will reform the media, as well. We’re going to make you guys into journalists again. So, get ready. It’s going to be a fun eight years, I can’t wait.”

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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Caitlin Sievers
Caitlin Sievers

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She's won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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