WASHINGTON – Democratic challenger Hiral Tipirneni conceded to Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, in the race for Arizona’s 6th District congressional seat Saturday, after days of counting saw her election night lead evaporate.
The latest election results, released Saturday, showed Schweikert’s lead was continuing to grow, with the five-term Republican holding a 52.15% to 47.85% margin and a 17,646-vote advantage.
Tipirneni’s campaign had said just a day earlier that she would not concede until every vote was counted, but Saturday’s margin led her to concede to Schweikert in a “heartbreaking loss.”
“I am deeply proud of my team, this campaign and the fierceness with which we ran it,” Tipirneni said in a letter to her supporters. “We have made an immense impact, make no mistake.”
In a tweet Saturday, Schweikert did not mention Tipirneni, but said he was “humbled and overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from our community” and “honored to be your representative.”
It was a reversal for the race, which saw Tipirneni leading in early election night returns. Maricopa County still had 43,761 ballots uncounted as of Saturday, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, but it did not say how many of those might be in the 6th District, which sits north of Phoenix.
Regardless of how many ballots remain to be counted, one analyst said they would likely be of little help to Tipirneni. Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy for HighGround Public Affairs, said the ballots being counted now are from what experts have described as “late-early voters,” who have so far leaned Republican.
Bentz said Friday afternoon that Schweikert’s lead is “going to be very difficult to overcome with these final batches of votes.”
Bentz said that the first batch of early votes that were announced Tuesday were largely from Democrats who had sent in their ballots during the first and second week of voting, giving Tipirneni an edge on election night.
“Tipirneni definitely benefited from the early lead we saw among Democrats where they got their voters to be first-week and second-week voters,” Bentz said. “However we know that the Election Day voters, trended very Republican and Schweikert was able to catch up among those … voters.”
Besides Election Day voters leaning Republican, Bentz said it appears that many of the people who voted late in the early voting period – the “late-early voters” – were also GOP voters. Those are the ballots being counted now.
By Saturday morning, Schweikert had 214,474 votes to Tipirneni’s 196,828.
The concession means that all nine House incumbents from Arizona will likely be returned to Washington for the next Congress in 2021.
The only other incumbent who was thought to be vulnerable was Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, who faced a challenge in the sprawling 1st District from Republican Tiffany Shedd.
But O’Halleran jumped out to a 52-48% lead on election night and that lead has largely held. As of Saturday, O’Halleran had 175,968 votes to Shedd’s 164,808, a margin of 51.74% to 48.36%.
No other incumbent has polled less than 55% of the vote in their races, with Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, getting a whopping 76% of the vote in his south Phoenix district, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Despite representing a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 206,356 to 144,231, Schweikert was thought to be vulnerable this year after a long-running House Ethics Committee probe into his handling of office and campaign funds.
In June, Schweikert admitted to 11 counts of campaign finance violations and misuse of congressional office funds, among other charges, and was fined $50,000 by the committee.
While that was going on, Tipirneni was raising $5.4 million for her campaign to Schweikert’s $2 million, making it the most expensive House race in the state this year. Tipirneni’s financial advantage in a district with 165,641 independent voters was thought to give her a shot at unseating Schweikert, and polls showed her within striking distance.
Bentz said it proved to be “a very steep hill” for Tipirneni to climb.
“Ultimately it’s a very valiant effort she made,” Bentz said. “It’s much closer than people believed it would be, but this is still at its heart a very Republican-dominated district.”