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Democrat Wins Arizona Senate Race, Flipping 2nd GOP Seat

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

While so much attention has been focused on the contested midterm races in Florida and Georgia, Arizona has made history - in a couple of ways, actually. After all the votes were counted, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has beat out Republican challenger Martha McSally. They were competing for the Senate seat left open by retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake. Sinema will be the first Democrat to represent Arizona in the Senate in 30 years and the first woman ever to do so. Her opponent, Martha McSally, posted a video yesterday of her at home on her couch petting her dog and conceding the race.

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MARTHA MCSALLY: I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona's first female senator after a hard-fought battle. I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.

MARTIN: Sinema responded with a call for unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KYRSTEN SINEMA: We can embrace difference while seeking common ground.

MARTIN: Bret Jaspers of our member station KJZZ in Phoenix joins us now.

Bret, I imagine what we heard Sinema say there helped get her elected. Right? She is all about finding the common ground - or at least she says she is.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Exactly. She is one of the most moderate members of the House of Representatives. She, in her victory speech last night, talked a lot about Senator McCain, kind of harking back to, you know, his role as a person who can cross the aisle. She won by really playing to that centrism. She also, you know, has a very compelling personal story. She was homeless for a few years as a child. She also, you know, raised a lot of money in this race. It was a very expensive Senate race, and she put all of those things together and won.

MARTIN: Is it about her - her own backstory, her own personality - or is this about a change in Arizona's electorate? I mean, this has been a red state for a long time. Is it turning purple?

JASPERS: I think that it probably is more purple than people have historically thought it was. She ran, like we've been talking about, a really moderate race. And so that was a path to victory that was very clear for her from the very beginning. Our governor just won re-election by about 15 points. He's a Republican, Governor Doug Ducey. And so he, you know, won so overwhelmingly over his opponent that it's unclear whether or not, you know, Arizona is purple enough that, you know, every seat is going to be competitive. So...

MARTIN: Right.

JASPERS: ...It's still a little bit too soon to tell.

MARTIN: So as we noted, she will be taking the seat left vacant by Jeff Flake, who was a vocal critic of President Trump. What are Arizona voters expecting from her in terms of taking on the president?

JASPERS: Well, she has, like I said, voted with the president often - you know, more than half the time. I think people, given her record, would suspect that she would, you know, not be a vocal critic of Donald Trump the way Jeff Flake is. I think they would expect her to vote with her party on the big issues - let's say, a big Supreme Court justice fight similar to the Kavanaugh fight or, you know, Affordable Care Act repeal, something like that. But I think that...

MARTIN: Does she support the president's immigration policies?

JASPERS: She, at times, is a little more open to them than other Democrats are, so she's not going to be kind of on the ramparts, you know, battling back against the president...

MARTIN: Yeah.

JASPERS: ...On immigration.

MARTIN: So lastly, after John McCain died, the governor appointed Jon Kyl to that seat. But now there's speculation Kyl would step down and the governor could actually tap Martha McSally, who just lost to Sinema for that seat. Is that a real possibility?

JASPERS: You know, it could happen. I mean, Ducey also could appoint himself. That's been another rumor. He'll definitely kind of take the cautious approach, I think, and figure out what's the best thing politically for him and also something that Republican voters can live with here.

MARTIN: All right, Bret Jaspers of member station KJZZ in Phoenix.

Thanks so much.

JASPERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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