In Arizona, as in most of the country, the campaigns that were cliffhangers leading up to Election Day 2002 remained cliffhangers well into and beyond Election Night 2002.
Here it is three days after the polls closed and, despite Democrat Janet Napolitano’s 20,000-vote lead over Republican Matt Salmon (as of this morning, anyway), we’re still not absolutely certain who our new governor is.
Wednesday night, the Associated Press boldly declared Napolitano the victor, saying the attorney general “has an insurmountable lead.” But with Napolitano’s latest vote count of 497,382 (or 46.6 percent), and Salmon’s 477,192 (or 44.7 percent), and more than 160,000 ballots left to be tallied, the only thing that seems insurmountable are boldly premature declarations by the media.
After all, 160,000 ballots represents about 11 times the number of ballots cast in all of Gila County. And the fact is, we may not know if we have a male or female governor until Tuesday the day election officials are required by law to finish the count.
Some election-day surprises, however, revealed themselves almost immediately.
Across the country, voters’ satisfaction with President Bush translated into historically strong Republican showings and Democrat drubbings in several key U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
In the days leading up to the mid-term election, Bush urged votes for Republicans so he could have more “allies” in Congress to push his agenda, including the fight against terrorism and a possible war with Iraq.
Two years after the most disputed presidential election in history, the president’s strategy paid off. First, Bush’s brother, Jeb, was re-elected governor of Florida. Then, Capitol Hill old-timers Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and John Sununu of New Hampshire were named new GOP senators.
By late evening, the Republicans had maintained their grasp on the House, retaken control of the Senate, and even convinced Rep. Dick Gephardt that it was time for self-imposed retirement as the House Democratic leader.
“We’ve beaten the Democrats at their own game,” Dole said Tuesday.
She was correct, of course. But in Arizona, the full extent of her correctness may not be known until the second Tuesday of November.