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Sinema, Kirkpatrick still standing after Democratic ‘bloodbath’ at polls

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WASHINGTON – Amid a wave of Republican victories across the country and state this week, Arizona Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema stood out as rare bright spots for Democrats on an otherwise dismal Election Day.

National pollsters had listed the two as highly vulnerable House incumbents, but both won handily Tuesday in what one longtime political observer said was otherwise a “Democratic bloodbath.”

Chris Herstam, a lobbyist and former Republican state lawmaker, said Democrats in statewide races – like the one for governor – could not overcome the negative messages paid for by out-of-state “dark money” that mostly benefited Republicans.

“However, when you move to the congressional races, the outside money came from the national political parties,” he said. “That tends to balance out the outside dark money.”

The other Arizona Democrat who was tagged as among the most imperiled before the election, Rep. Ron Barber of Tucson, was in a race against Republican Martha McSally that was still too close to call Wednesday evening.

Kirkpatrick, locked in a fierce battle to keep eastern Arizona’s 1st District seat, overcame a deluge of out-of-state cash to beat her GOP challenger, state House Speaker Andy Tobin, by 53 to 47 percent.

It was the race that drew the most outside, undisclosed money in the country – $2.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The lion’s share of that money came from two conservative groups, American Action Network and Young Guns Network, which together spent a reported $1.6 million to defeat Kirkpatrick.

But she outspent Tobin by about a 3-1 ratio, funneling at least $2.7 million into her campaign, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. Tobin spent slightly more than $900,000, the FEC said.

Kirkpatrick – whose district includes large swaths of tribal land as well as Flagstaff, home of Northern Arizona University – on Wednesday credited her victory to voters in a district “unlike any other in the nation.”

“This is a district that values honesty and hard work,” she said.

Sinema faced challenges of her own, not least of which was a 10-point Republican registration advantage in the 9th District, which covers Tempe, Ahwatukee and part of central Phoenix. But she spent more than $3 million to finish with a 12-point lead over Republican Wendy Rogers, who burned through more than $1.1 million.

Sinema could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Herstam said her success was “a testament to her amazing energy level, superb articulation of the issues and her contagious personality.”

“She is a rare political commodity for the Democratic Party in Arizona,” he said.

Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Barbara Lubin said both Sinema and Kirkpatrick ran “very good races” against opponents whose messages did not resonate with voters. She added that the incumbents’ investment in constituent services paid off as well.

“They’re both really hardworking congresswomen, generally,” she said.

Herstam said their successes boiled down to two things: Which candidate had the better campaign ground game and who had the most campaign cash behind them.

“In politics it’s almost always the same,” he said. “Follow the money.”