Blue Rules

curr1-1.jpgA packed room of Democrats let out a roar as the first election results showed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on her way to re-election over Republican Tim Bee on Tuesday night.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Jennifer Powers-Murphy, who worked phone banks for the freshman Democrat. “The solar thing is a really big deal to me. The only thing John McCain has ever said about solar is that we should all wear sunscreen and a hat.”

Hundreds of Democrats, packed into a ballroom at the Marriott University Park, had been in a feverish mood all evening as state after state was called for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

“Hallelujah goes right there,” said an ebullient Anita Smith-Etheridge as NBC News called Ohio for Barack Obama. “It’s way cool.”

Paul Eckerstrom, a former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, said “this could be a realignment election.” But, he added, “Obama and the Democrats have to govern in a practical way.”

At the Manning House, where local Republicans gathered, the crowd was much more subdued.

The party started at 7 p.m. with just a handful of GOPers milling about and looking at the widescreen TV set tuned to Fox. Only a few politicians wandered around shaking hands, including Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Congressional District 8 candidate Tim Bee, and defeated Legislative District 27 Senate candidate Bob Westerman.

As the evening progressed, another look around the room revealed the presence of perennial CD 7 candidate/total loon Joe Sweeney, standing against the wall alone and drinking a tall glass of orange juice.

Eventually, Marilyn Zerull (who would go on to finish third in the LD 26 House race), Juan Ciscomani (defeated in the LD 29 House race) and Jonathan Paton (the Senator-elect from LD 30) joined the party.

During John McCain’s concession speech from Phoenix, which started about 9:20 p.m.--20 minutes after national news organizations deemed Barack Obama the president-elect--the room was silent and still, with occasional shouts blaming the liberal press (including some participants walking toward the press area to give the assembled reporters a good stare-down) and a whisper from losing LD 27 House candidate J.D. Duke Schechter to a fellow Republican that tomorrow, the “flag flies at half-mast.”

“We may not be in power, but our day will come again,” said Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who ran unopposed.

The closest thing to excitement at the GOP gathering came during Bee’s speech—which was neither a concession speech nor a victory address. Bee stood before the room with his family and thanked his supporters.

“On behalf of the Bee family, who has also given a tremendous amount of support, we’re hoping and praying for a victory,” Bee said, walking to his wife and giving her a hug.

The only other moment of significant applause came when results of Proposition 102, which will put a ban on gay marriage in the Arizona Constitution, were being announced.

However, the news for Republicans was otherwise bleak. To nobody’s surprise, Sweeney said he plans to run for Congress again in two years in an effort to, in his words, get those “pachucos out of South Tucson.”

Back at the Marriott, a packed house celebrated as Giffords took the stage and started addressing the exited gathering—but was forced to stop speaking when President-elect Obama started giving his victory speech. Numerous tears of joy were spilled as Obama spoke in Chicago.

Giffords echoed Obama’s “change” theme in her remarks.

“Two years ago, Southern Arizona said to Washington: Change can’t wait,” she said, referring to her election to Congress two years ago. “Tonight, the rest of America said they can’t wait for change, either.”

She praised Obama as a leader who can bring the fractured country together.

“Generations will look back on tonight, and they will thank you,” she told the crowd. “They will thank you for your audacity and support.”

While Giffords at first did not declare victory over Bee, just before 11 p.m., she said she’d be heading to Washington, D.C., for a second term. However, Bee refused to concede—even though he was losing, with 42.2 percent of the vote to Giffords’ 55.3 percent, at 11 p.m. (Wednesday morning, with 98.6 percents of precincts reporting, Bee was still down, 54.7 percent to 42.9 percent.)

With Democrat Harry Mitchell headed to re-election in District 5, and Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick headed to victory over Republican Sydney Hay, Democrats took an apparent a five-seat majority in the eight-person congressional delegation. Democrats Raúl Grijalva and Ed Pastor won re-election, as did Republicans John Shadegg and Jeff Flake.

Many legislative races remained too close to call late Tuesday night, but cleared up Wednesday morning. In the hotly contested Legislative District 26 Senate contest, Republican Al Melvin led Democrat Cheryl Cage by less than 300 votes, but with many ballots left to count. However, by Wednesday morning, Melvin had emerged the apparent victor, by 1,127 votes.

In the House race in District 26, Democrat Nancy Young Wright emerged the apparent victor Wednesday morning, with 25.9 percent of the vote. Republican Vic Williams also had 25.9 percent (but 50 fewer votes) to nab the second seat. Republican Marilyn Zerull (25.2 percent) and Democrat Don Jorgensen (23 percent) were defeated.

“I’m feeling cautiously optimistic,” said Williams Tuesday night.

In the District 30 House race, Republicans Frank Antenori and David Gowan beat Democrat Andrea Dalessandro, whose underdog bid enjoyed substantial financial support from the Arizona Democratic Party’s surrogates.

At the Manning House, Antenori went off on one of his trademark rants when asked for comment.

“We are going to get this budget done in 65 days. We are going to push hard for that,” he said. “We are not going to muck things or muddle things up until we get this budget done.

“It’s kind of funny that the governor and her union thugs came after me with everything they had, and they still couldn’t beat me. I was outspent 8-to-1. They took things out of my Political Courage Test, which, by the way, Ms. Dalessandro … didn’t take, so she’s a coward. They were basing that off of two boxes that I did not check. Therefore, they implied that I would cut off a woman diagnosed with cancer from health-care access, which is such bullshit. There’s no other word to describe it than bullshit.”

Republican Rep. Jonathan Paton easily dispatched Democratic challenger Georgette Valle to advance to the District 30 Senate seat being vacated by Bee.

Democrats were hoping to pick up a House seat in Legislative District 25 after the retirement of Republican Jennifer Burns, but that didn’t happen. Democrat Pat Fleming led with 28.7 percent of the vote Wednesday morning (with 99.1 percent of precincts reporting), with Republican David Stevens (25.7 percent) in second place. Democrat Richard Boyer was in third with 24.4 percent, and Timathy Davies was bringing up the rear with 21.2 percent.

Democrat Manny Alvarez narrowly won his Senate bid against Republican Mary Ann Black.

Democrats Matt Heinz and Daniel Patterson were handily defeating Republicans Pat Kilburn and Juan Ciscomani in the District 29 House race, while Democrat Linda Lopez was unopposed in her Senate bid.

Democrats Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero-Bedford were dominating the District 27 House race, while Jorge Luis Garcia was thumping Republican Bob Westerman in the Senate race by a 2-to-1 margin.

In the only contested race for the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Democratic incumbent Sharon Bronson was defeating Republican Barney Brenner with 59 percent of the vote.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was easily dispatching his GOP opponent, Harry Shaw, with 64.6 percent of the vote.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, who had 53.1 percent of the vote, was heading to victory over Republican Brad Roach and Green Claudia Ellquist.

In the extremely tight statewide race for three Arizona Corporation Commission seats, Democrats Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy (both 18.1 percent) were leading with more than 99 percent of precincts reporting. Republican Bob Stump (16.2 percent) was edging Democrat Sam George (16.2 percent) for third place by just more than 1,300 votes (out of more than 4.6 million counted so far), followed by Republicans Barry Wong (15.7 percent) and Marian McClure (15.5 percent).

This report was prepared by Jimmy Boegle, Mari Herreras and Jim Nintzel, with additional reporting from Claire Conrad, Megan Neighbor and Hank Stephenson.