Big Arizona voter turnout brings slow results, few surprises

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona voters turned out in near-record numbers to set the stage for a high stakes battle for the U.S. Senate, keep former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's comeback hopes alive and give a strong challenger to a wounded incumbent congressman.

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Dr. Hiral Tipirneni won a four-way Democratic primary Tuesday to take on scandal-scarred Republican Rep. David Schweikert and Arpaio was locked in a tight race to reclaim the GOP nomination to seek his old office.

Turnout was on track to set a record and no major voting issues were reported despite new procedures and shuffled polling places in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Returns lagged, though, leaving the outcome of many races unclear into Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly both easily secured their nominations and quickly previewed the high-stakes battle they'll wage until November. Kelly portrayed himself as an independent outsider, while McSally looked to remind voters in a state where Republicans still have a registration advantage that Kelly is a Democrat.

Still, McSally's little-known opponent, businessman Daniel McCarthy, pulled in about 20% of the vote. Kelly faced only a write-in opponent.

All U.S. House incumbents secured their parties’ nominations. Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who faced the most spirited challenge from within his own party, defeated progressive champion Eva Putzova. Eloy farmer Tiffany Shedd won the GOP nomination.

Among the U.S. House races, none was more prominent than the 6th District covering much of north Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills and Scottsdale. Tipirneni will face Schweikert in the heavily Republican district. Democrats hope the sea

t could be in play amid growing skepticism of the GOP among white voters with a college degree and thanks to a long-running ethics investigation of Schweikert that ended with him admitting wrongdoing just last week and paying a fine.

Tipirneni lost twice in a neighboring, more conservative district but outperformed most Democrats there. She issued a statement previewing the attacks Schweikert is sure to face.

“Rep. Schweikert has betrayed his oath to serve our community, misused taxpayer resources for his own personal benefit, and lied about it,” Tipirneni said. “It’s long past time for new leadership that will put people first.”

Two heavily Democratic districts had uncontested primaries on both sides. In the 3rd District, Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva will face Republican Daniel Wood. In the 7th District, Rep. Ruben Gallego faces Republican Joshua Barnett.

Arpaio was neck-and-neck with his former second-in-command, Jerry Sheridan, for the GOP nomination for Maricopa County sheriff. Arpaio held the job for 24 years but was ousted by voters in 2016 and trounced in a 2018 run for U.S. Senate. The winner will face Paul Penzone, the incumbent who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

A number of state legislative districts also face ideological battles. Longtime Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen lost the primary in her eastern Arizona district to Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force officer. Sen. Heather Carter, a moderate Republican, trailed closely behind conservative challenger Rep. Nancy Barto.

At a mall in Phoenix's Biltmore neighborhood on Election Day, a steady sprinkle of people entered a vacant restaurant space turned polling site. Poll workers wore masks, gloves and even face shields. For James Maynard, a 29-year-old Republican, it was the first election cycle where he opted to vote in person. He plans to do so again in November despite the pandemic.

“Like anything else it’s going to be chaotic but we’ll get through it,” said Maynard, who was wearing a mask decorated with the American flag. “If we continue to take the necessary precautions the CDC puts out, we should be fine.”

Election officials across the state encouraged voters to request a mail ballot, and some expanded options for early voting to reduce crowds on Election Day.

President Donald Trump has raised concerns that mail-in voting would be susceptible to voter fraud. That is a worry that Carol Santiago, 64, agrees with. She voted in person Tuesday in Phoenix as she does for every election.

“I don’t trust mail-in ballots," said Santiago, a Republican. "I personally just feel better and feel more secure no matter what election it is. I like to vote in person.”

Akil Zakariya, a 29-year-old Democrat, voted in person because he didn't request a mail-in ballot in time. He plans to vote by mail in the general election to avoid crowds. He called Trump's worries “propaganda.”

“He votes by mail. His press secretary votes by mail. I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be trusted,” Zakariya said.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office said there were no major problems reported at the polls and turnout appeared very high for a primary.

“It seems like we’re getting record turnout,” said Sophia Solis.

____ Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.