3 Slugfests tight in Arizona congressional vote

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Voters in Arizona's three competitive congressional races seemed as divided as the nation as a whole was on Tuesday, with one race leaning slightly Republican, one Democratic and one virtually tied.

Meanwhile, voters in six other districts chose their representatives along the expected 4-2 party split in favor of Republicans.

The new Phoenix-area 9th District, Tucson-centered 2nd District and northeastern Arizona's 1st District were tight, and Republican Jonathan Paton slight lead over Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in the 1st District diminishing as the night wore on.

Democrat Ron Barber has a small lead against Republican Martha McSally in the 2nd District, while Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker were in a near dead heat in the 9th District.

The race in the new 9th District was expected to be highly competitive. Republicans have a slight registration advantage but both parties' totals are exceeded by independents, and many believe it leans Democratic.

Both Parker and Sinema acknowledged the wait would be long.

"Right now our race is too close to call but we are optimistic about this evening," Sinema told supporters. "Right now we're going to keep our heads high, take a deep breath and pray for every vote to be counted in this election."

Parker urged his supporters to be patient because thousands of ballots remained uncounted.

"I am telling you all to hang in there," Parker told supporters in Phoenix. "We will win this thing. I guarantee you."

Democrat Ron Barber was holding onto a small lead in the 2nd District race against Republican Martha McSally, a political newcomer.

Paton also has a slight lead against Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who told supporters she was waiting for results from the Navajo Nation and other tribal areas that she hopes puts her back on top.

"Our race is looking good, but we're not going to know for quite a while," Kirkpatrick said.

Depending on the outcome, Democrats could end up with a majority of the delegation or Republicans could hold on or add to their current 5-3 majority.

The state earned a ninth seat after the 2010 Census and will fill it for the first time in November. Millions have been spent by the major parties, outside groups and the candidates to sway voters.

The 1st District, which runs from Flagstaff through eastern Arizona counties and then west into parts of Pinal County, featured Kirkpatrick and Paton locked in an expensive battle.

Kirkpatrick has painted Paton as a lobbyist for the payday loan industry while Paton has countered that Kirkpatrick as a free-spending backer of President Barack Obama's policies.

Barber was trying to hold the seat he won to replace his former boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a June special election, but McSally was giving him a strong run for the money.

"We knew it was going to be close and this is exactly what we expected," she said late Tuesday.

Barber says his decades in the moderate district and understanding of government made him the best choice, while McSally wants to cut government regulation, repeal the new health care law and work to balance the federal budget.

In the 9th District race, Parker focused on stopping expected tax hikes and developing a tax code he said will help the economy grow and prevent jobs from being sent overseas. Sinema has been touting her ability to work across party lines developed during her eight years in the state Legislature, always in the minority, and her commitment to women's issues.

The new 9th District includes much of Tempe and parts of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Mesa and Chandler.

The other six districts led to wins for four Republican wins and two for Democrats.

They are:

3rd District: Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva won a 6th term in office after turning back a challenge from Republican Gabriela Saucedo Mercer to represent southwestern Arizona.

4th District: Freshman congressman Paul Gosar easily won election over Democrat Johnnie Robinson and two lesser party candidates in northwestern Arizona. Gosar switched districts after redistricting made his old eastern Arizona one more competitive.

5th District: Former Rep. Matt Salmon coasted to a victory over Democrat Spencer Morgan and will return to Capitol Hill after a dozen year absence. The 4th District is centered in Mesa.

6th District: U.S. Rep. David Schweikert won an easy re-election victory in a heavily Republican district that includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and parts of Phoenix. Schweikert beat Democrat Matt Jette and three third-party candidates.

7th District: Rep. Ed Pastor cruised to re-election in his heavily Democratic south Phoenix district and will serve a 12th term in Congress. Libertarian Joe Cobb was his only opponent after no Republican qualified for the ballot.

8th District: Republican Rep. Trent Franks easily won re-election in his heavily Republican district covering the northern and western Phoenix suburbs. The 55-year-old Franks beat Democrat Gene Scharer and Americans Elect party candidate Stephen Dolgos.