Dems lead key races but legislative control remains up for grabs

Democratic state Senate candidate Doug Ervin speaks to a television reporter outside a north Phoenix polling site on Nov. 3, 2020. /Photo by Jim Small | Arizona

By Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

Election night ended with Democrats’ hopes of taking control of the legislature for the first time in a half century still intact, but their leads in several key races are slim and Republicans overtook early their early gains in other districts.

Democrats need net gains of two seats in the House and three in the Senate to take the majorities in each chamber, and as of late Tuesday night, they led in just enough races to make that a reality, if the leads hold. But Republicans gained ground with each new vote count, and some Democratic leads appeared quite tenuous.

The Democrats looked likely to win at least a couple seats, regardless of what happens as Maricopa and other counties continue to tally ballots.

In District 28, an affluent district that covers north-central Phoenix and Paradise Valley, teacher Christine Marsh holds a seemingly insurmountable lead over Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. Marsh, who lost to Brophy McGee by just 267 votes in 2018, now leads by about 6,700 votes.

And Judy Schwiebert, also a teacher, is up by more than 5,000 votes in the House race in District 20, which covers parts of north Phoenix and Glendale. Schwiebert has been the top vote-getter, while incumbent Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, trails seatmate Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, for the district’s other House seat.

Other leads looked far shakier, especially as Republican candidates gained momentum throughout the night.

Former school board member Kathy Knecht leads Republican Rep. Kevin Payne by just 283 votes for the second House seat in conservative District 21, which covers Sun City and much of Peoria. Beverly Pingerelli leads Knecht by about 3,500 votes for first place.

In District 17, where Democrats spent more than $1.3 million against Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, challenger A.J. Kurdoglu led by just 582 votes at night’s end, after racking up early margins of nearly 2,000. Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, trailed accountant Doug Ervin, but had cut his initial lead of nearly 2,700 to about 1,700.

Democratic state Senate candidate Doug Ervin speaks to a television reporter outside a north Phoenix polling site on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

And in northern Arizona, Democrat Coral Evans slipped from first place in the House race for District 6 to second, falling behind Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who overtook the Flagstaff mayor, despite $800,000 in Democratic spending against him. Evans leads former GOP lawmaker Brenda Barton by more than 1,100 votes.

But early Democratic leads evaporated in several big races, buoying GOP hopes for retaining one or both chambers.

Retired U.S. Air Force pilot Wendy Rogers, a four-time congressional candidate, started the night trailing Democrat Felecia French by about a thousand votes, but now leads by about 5,900. 

Outside Democratic groups raised eyebrows by spending both the House and Senate races in District 11, a conservative stronghold that runs from the northern Tucson suburbs through parts of Pinal County. And early in the night, it looked like it might pay off as Senate hopeful JoAnna Mendoza led Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, and Felipe Perez led the race for the House.

But subsequent ballot drops propelled Leach to a 7,000-vote lead, while Perez fell behind both incumbent GOP House representatives, Bret Roberts and Mark Finchem. Perez now trails Finchem by nearly 3,200 votes for the district’s second House seat.

Republicans David Cook and Frank Pratt erased an early lead for Democrat Sharon Girard in the House race in Pinal County-based District 8 as well.

And the Democrats may even lose a seat in the House. Republican challenger Joel John holds a razor-thin lead over Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear. At night’s end, John, whose biggest lead had been just 93, led by a scant six votes. Peten is the seatmate of House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.

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November 2020