PHOENIX -- The hand-picked successor to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords trailed a Republican political novice by a few hundred votes Wednesday in one of two razor-thin congressional races in Arizona that could drag on for several days as the final ballots are tallied.
Another close contest was decided Wednesday when Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick was declared the winner of the sprawling 1st district over former GOP lawmaker Jonathan Paton.
Rep. Ron Barber, who was wounded at the January 2011 shooting in Tucson that forced Giffords to resign, said he still believed outstanding ballots could tilt the race in southern Arizona's 2nd Congressional District back in his favor. But if they don't, he respects the voters' decision.
``I'm perfectly at ease and at peace with the voters' decision about who they send to Congress,'' Barber told The Associated Press. ``And if it's not me, then I wish my opponent, if she's our new member, every success because we have to get the job done. ``
Retired Air Force pilot Martha McSally seemingly came out of nowhere to take the lead in the race late Tuesday. Barber won the early voting, while McSally dominated on Election Day.
The first woman to fly in combat and to command a fighter squadron, McSally captivated audiences looking for leadership in the moderate district that had twice rejected an ultra-conservative tea party Republican, Jesse Kelly.
McSally's personal narrative, including suing the Defense Department because it required her to wear a head scarf while based in Saudi Arabia, resonated with independents and women, although Democrats called her out for her stands on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
McSally said she believes voters supported Barber in the June special election because he was wounded with Giffords and she asked him to fill out her unexpired term. But Tuesday's race was different.
``I think those factors certainly were important in the last race, whereas this race was more about who's the right person, in their own right, to represent the district,'' McSally said.
Paton said he would not comment on Kirkpatrick's victory until all the outstanding votes were counted in the race that had been considered a tossup and featured millions of dollars in ad spending.
``The voters in CD1 have spoken and I just have to tell you I feel humbled and honored to serve them again and it's time to get to work,'' Kirkpatrick said.
The district encompasses much of northern and eastern Arizona, rural areas south of Phoenix and the Navajo Nation.
Kirkpatrick represented the district for one term before being ousted by a conservative Republican in 2010, Paul Gosar. After redistricting made the district less conservative, Gosar moved to northwestern Arizona's 4th district and won election on Tuesday.
The Phoenix area's 9th district was a virtual tie Wednesday between former Democratic state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker, a former mayor of the upscale Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley.
The state earned a ninth seat after the 2010 Census and was filling it for the first time on Tuesday.
Barber said he's heading back to Washington next week to help address looming federal issues like the expiring Bush tax cuts, the farm bill and automatic spending cuts.
``There's plenty to do,'' he said.
For Barber, the cliffhanger 2nd district race is one that he would not have imagined just two years ago.
``I've got so much to be grateful for,'' Barber told the AP. ``I really have got this wonderful family who have supported me over the last two years in what's been one of the most surreal experiences of my life, you know.''
- Dignity Health World Class People. World Class Company. Excellent care, delivered with compassion, for all in need.
- Eyes on Education A view of Arizona's education system from all angles.