By noon on election day, the first winner of a congressional election was known, when results came in from the Mariana Islands, on the other side of the dateline. And now, on November 17th, some eleven days later, some of the last contests are being called.
One of those is the election in the 2nd Congressional District of Arizona, which includes much of Tuscon and the area south and east to the Mexico and New Mexico borders. Congressional Districts are nominal entities, and what is now called the 2nd Congressional District is what used to be called the 8th Congressional District, although it was slightly modified and renamed after . And this was the district that Gabriele Giffords was representing when she was shot by Jared Lee Loughner outside a Tuscon Safeway. She resigned, and one of her top deputies, Ron Barber, won a special election earlier this year.
Ron Barber was thus the incumbent, in all but name, for this year's second contest. He was opposed by Martha McSally, who before this foray into politics was best known as the first American woman to pilot an aircraft into combat, having flown an A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am not an expert on the politics of Arizona, and there is a good chance that no one on either side was, coming into this election. The new congressional districts had been drawn by a supposedly non-partisan commission, but it is hard to know just how a congressional district sits until an election has taken place in it. This district lies in a conservative state, which is good for the Republican candidate. But it has a major city in it, which is usually good for the Democratic candidate. It is also highly Hispanic, which is good for the Democrats. But in this case, demographics might not be the complete story. The memory of Giffords shooting is still bright in people's minds, and since Barber was on her staff (and indeed, was there when she got shot, and got shot himself), he probably has some support from that. But McSally, being a pioneer in being the first woman to fly in combat, obviously has some good points on her resume. So all of these factors: the shifting demographics of the district, the history of the Giffords shooting, and the qualities of the candidates, all went into the result, which was a 50.2%-49.8% victory for Barber. In terms of a raw vote, this is a little more than 800 votes.
Although in larger terms, elections are often predictable based on the overall trends of the electorate, there are always tipping points where the results are based on a combination of factors no one could guess at. This election was one of those.