Republicans held onto all three state legislative seats representing Rim Country, despite a strong challenge from three Democrats with deep roots in the district.
It’s still possible uncounted provisional ballots could change the result, but highly unlikely.
At this point, it looks like incumbent Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) won re-election — with strong support in Gila County. Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) also appears headed to re-election, albeit by a slimmer margin. Newcomer Walt Blackman from Show Low appears to have won the seat vacated by Brenda Barton due to term limits.
Statewide, Republicans lost ground — but retained control of both the House and the Senate.
In the House, losses trimmed the Republican majority from 35 down to 31 -- which means the House can pass a Republican measure over Democratic opposition only if every single Republican supports it.
In the Senate, Republicans maintained their 17-15 advantage.
Sen. Allen had 52 percent of the vote, a 3,000-vote advantage over Holbrook councilman Wade Carlisle. Carlisle, from a ranching family with deep Arizona roots, at one point during the night pulled even with Allen, but fell back as votes came in from rural areas of the sprawling district.
Carlisle had criticized Sen. Allen’s staunch support for school vouchers and voters decisively rejected the Legislature’s attempt to expand the taxpayer payments to private schools. However, voter rejection of vouchers didn’t translate into a loss of support for Sen. Allen.
The House seats also shifted during the night, before Blackman and Thorpe piled up what looks like a decisive lead.
Blackman, a career Army non-commissioned officer, received 26.89 percent of the vote — making him the top vote-getter for the House seats.
Thorpe, a volunteer firefighter and Flagstaff Tea Party activist who has sometimes gained national attention for unusual bills and positions, got 26.39 percent of the vote.
Felicia French, who lives in Pine, on Wednesday morning had 25.06 percent of the vote, with each voter choosing two candidates. That still put her some 1,900 votes behind Thorpe.
Holbrook Mayor Bobby Tyler came in fourth, with about 24 percent of the vote.
Unless an unexpected pattern emerges from provisional ballots, the Republicans will solidify their hold on District 6, which stretches from the Grand Canyon, through Flagstaff and the Verde Valley and on through Rim Country all the way to Snowflake.
About 800 provisional ballots remain uncounted in Gila County, with others not counted in Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties.
The district officially ranks as one of the more competitive in the state, with a large block of Independent voters. However, voters in the heavily Republican rural areas of the district have generally turned out at a higher rate than the more heavily Democratic precincts in Flagstaff.
Thorpe gained national publicity at one point in the last term when he pushed unsuccessfully for a bill that would bar the more than 20,000 Northern Arizona University students from voting at school. He backed away from the bill, but benefited from the very low turnout rate among younger voters — especially in a midterm election.
French — a retired Army colonel — rang doorbells throughout the district, but couldn’t dent the Republican advantage. She stressed building support for education and broadening access to health care in her campaign. She also offered no direct criticism of Thorpe despite deep disagreements with his positions, saying she wanted to run a positive campaign.
Tyler appeared much less often in Gila County and didn’t get big boost from his sparsely populated base in Holbrook. He spent a lifetime working for utility companies.
Carlisle also made only a handful of appearances in Rim Country, although he launched a modest ad blitz in the last week of the campaign, after most of the mail-in ballots had already been cast. He focused on advocating for economic development in rural Arizona and boosting education funding, stressing the deep cuts in education funding Sen. Allen had voted for during the recession.
Nonetheless, Sen. Allen amassed a relatively comfortable victory with 52 percent of the vote.
All three Republicans would have won easily if the vote was limited to Gila County. All three Republicans piled up big margins here. Allen got 70 percent of the vote in Gila County, Thorpe got 35 percent and Blackman got 36 percent. Tyler and French got 14 percent and 16 percent respectively.
However, the Democrats ran stronger in Flagstaff, the largest city in the district. That brought the Democratic slate closer than in the past two election cycles, but still short of challenging what has become a reliable Republican district.