PHOENIX (AP) -- GOP Rep. Jeff Flake overpowered former Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday to capture an open Senate seat after a vicious campaign that became one of the nation's biggest-spending races and ended up being closer than Republicans originally expected in conservative Arizona.
The race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl was marked by attacks on Flake's views on immigration and federal spending and by about $15 million in spending from outside groups in October alone.
In his victory speech, Flake emphasized that the country will have to reduce its debt.
"Not every vote I cast will be popular," he told a raucous crowd of supporters, many of whom stood on chairs to see him speak. "But I can guarantee you that every vote I cast, every decision I make, will be made knowing what's at stake and knowing that this state has to have a brighter future."
Carmona said his campaign was driven by people who wanted to see Arizona take a more moderate, sensible direction.
"You did it because you were tired of seeing Arizona focus on birther bills instead of education," he said to loud applause.
Final results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found that Flake drew wide support from white voters, while Carmona won high marks among Hispanics.
The survey also showed votes among independents were nearly evenly split among the two candidates.
Voters who named the economy as the top issue facing the country didn't necessarily prefer one candidate over the other, but those who said health care weighs heavily on their minds favored Carmona. Liberals and moderates sided with Carmona while Flake scored well among conservatives.
Flake, a six-term Republican congressman, is best known for his fierce opposition to "earmarks" - special requests for federal dollars for local pet projects such as roads and bridges. He said his opposition is a move away from patronage and a move toward basing funding for projects on merit.
Democrats recruited Carmona to run for Kyl's seat after it became clear that then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wouldn't campaign because of head injuries she suffered during the January 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson.
The race for the post became more competitive after Flake emerged from a bruising primary against a wealthy businessman, outside groups threw millions of dollars into the race and voters learned more about Carmona, who entered the race as an unknown to many Arizona voters.
Carmona touted his resume - a career as a medical doctor, military service in Vietnam and law enforcement experience - and accused Flake of hurting economic development in Arizona through his opposition to earmarks for roads, public-works and water projects.
Flake portrayed Carmona as a hand-picked rubber stamp for Obama and has run an ad in which Carmona's former boss said the former surgeon general has problems controlling his anger and dealing with women.
Carmona countered by rolling out an ad in which a retired sheriff's captain who was his supervisor when he was a SWAT team member said he treated everyone with respect.
Arizona's last Democratic senator was Dennis DeConcini, who retired in 1995. Carmona switched his party registration from independent to Democratic late last year.
The exit poll survey of 1,634 Arizona voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 10 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 1,050 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4.
Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
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