The long 2014 political campaign whimpered to an end Wednesday as Republican Martha McSally claimed the last official victory in an Arizona congressional contest whose results were delayed six weeks by a required recount.
McSally entered the recount earlier this month with a 161-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber, and had been expected to hold on to it. In the end, she emerged with a 167-vote margin of victory in results released by the Maricopa County Superior Court.
The 2nd Congressional District recount was ordered because fewer than 200 votes separated the two candidates out of more than 220,000 cast.
"We're grateful to everyone who devoted their time and resources, especially during the extended vote and recount processes, to get us over the finish line," McSally said in a statement posted on her campaign website that thanked Barber for his service. "With the results of the recount now official, we can move forward as one community to bring Southern Arizonans the strong representation they deserve."
Barber issued a statement on Facebook congratulating McSally and appearing to put to an end the court skirmishes that had preceded the recount.
"This result is not the one we hoped for, but we take solace in having spoken out loud and clear for the principle that every legal vote should be counted," he said. "As in every election system, there are imperfections in ours, and we must work to correct them. When an election is as close as this one has been, we do our best to arrive at the correct result, and then accept it with respect for the voters."
Barber was an aide to Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011 when she was shot in the head. He was one of a dozen people injured when gunman Jared Lee Loughner opened fire during a meeting with constituents that Giffords was holding outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six others were killed.
After his recovery and Giffords' resignation, Barber won the seat in a June 2012 special election. In the 2012 general election, when he narrowly defeated McSally, Barber benefited from a heavily Democratic electorate; this year, he was fighting a Republican surge.
After the narrow results, Barber and McSally's teams tussled over the acceptability of contested ballots until the recount began. But McSally was treated like the victor before it was official: Last week, the 26-year Air Force veteran was appointed to the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. She will be sworn in, along with other members of Congress, in January.
Barber allies had filed a federal suit demanding that state elections officials be forced to accept 133 disputed ballots, but the election results made those numbers moot, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett noted in an interview.
"Even if all of those ballots went to Barber, 133 doesn't overcome 167," Bennett said.