PHOENIX – Arizona Sen. John McCain lost his bid for the presidency and the Republican party lost one of Arizona’s Congressional seats to a Democrat, but all wasn’t gloomy for the state’s GOP.
The bright spot Tuesday was the state Legislature.
Republicans appeared set to gain two seats in the House to bring the party split to 35 Republicans to 25 Democrats. The Democrats had hoped to add three or more seats to pull close or even take control of the lower chamber.
Democrats’ efforts to pare away at the Republican majority in the state Senate also appeared doomed, with returns showing them close to losing at least one seat in the upper chamber.
Republicans currently control both houses of the Legislature, with 17 of the 30 Senate seats and 33 of the 60 House seats. Democrats, who last controlled the House in 1966, picked up one Senate seat and four House seats in 2006.
Control of a chamber is important because the majority party’s leadership usually gets to decide what bills are considered. Although Republicans now control both the Senate and House, GOP conservatives have been stymied in getting some of their key legislative goals enacted because Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano holds veto power and has a track record of building alliances with moderate Republicans.
Top lawmakers with both parties had said Democrats have a good shot of gaining House seats, possibly even a majority, and spent the cash to make that a better possibility.
“It’s not pretty, is it?” asked Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat who was buoyant about her party’s chances late last week. “I will say this – I think we need to wait a day or two” for final results.
Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, had conceded Democrats could pick up House seats and maybe the majority. But as the returns trickled in, he turned practically jubilant.
“You know how pessimistic I was feeling, but I gotta tell you it is a great night, other than the fact that we lost the presidency,” Verschoor said. “Here in Arizona we’re going to pick up seats in the House and we may pick up a Senate seat.
Democrats had a huge cash advantage, with the party and independent groups pouring at least $1.2 million into the races. They sent out mailers, bought campaign signs and funded television ads. Republicans had only about $250,000 to spend on legislative races.
That money was in addition to the public or private financing that individual candidates had for their races.
But in the end, Verschoor said a high Republican turnout helped. McCain’s pull and several propositions that were heavily supported by Republicans helped.
“It’s a huge victory – it’s almost a mandate,” Verschoor said.
“Well, it’s not a mandate, but when you consider how much money that was spent it’s clear the voters weren’t up for the big tax and spend crowd.”