By BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — His Democratic-leaning district remapped into one that leaned heavily Republican, US Rep. Tom O’Halleran could have just retired and ceded the sprawling Arizona district he was virtually certain to lose to the Republican who ended up victorious in Tuesday’s election. He didn’t.
“That’s not who I am,” the three-term Democrat said Friday from his home in Sedona. “I could have said no. I felt that we needed to try to defend it because of the needs of not only the state but the country. Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some. At least you get into the game.”
O’Halleran was the most vulnerable incumbent in Arizona’s nine-member congressional delegation and lost to businessman and former Navy Seal Eli Crane, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. The Associated Press called the race late Thursday after additional votes were counted.
Crane banked on redistricting making it easy to knock off O’Halleran. His victory helps Republicans as they eye taking control of the US House as more votes are counted from the election that concluded on Tuesday.
Three other Arizona districts remain too early to call, with Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton and Republican Rep. David Schweikert trying to hold their Phoenix-area seats against challengers and Republican Juan Ciscomani and Democrat Kirsten Engel locked in a tight race for a southeastern Arizona district now held by the retiring Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Arizona’s five other seats were held by incumbents who faced little or no opposition.
Crane will now represent the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which covers much of northeastern Arizona and dips south to the northern Tucson suburbs. Redistricting remade it into one that strongly favors the GOP by drawing in the Prescott area.
Crane did not return messages seeking an interview, but his campaign issued a statement where he thanked his wife, Jen, and two daughters, and said he was proud of the campaign and volunteers and staff.
“In Congress, I will never forget whom I serve or why the people sent me to represent them,” Crane’s statement said. “I will always be your voice.”
He said his victory was a message from the “America First” movement pushed by Trump.
“Now begins the real work of getting the country we love back on track,” he wrote.
O’Halleran first won election in 2016 and leaned on his moderate voting record, name ID and consistent work across the district that includes the Navajo Nation to hold onto the seat. But redistricting made it virtually unwinnable, something that he fully understood.
“Obviously, the registration was not where it needed to be,” he told the AP. “But I also felt that if we could get our message across to people that our country is too great of a country to allow us to be torn apart that was worth moving forward on.
“And I still believe that,” he continued. “I think that we have to find common ground. And you can’t find it by running away from it and saying, ‘Oh, that’s just too tough.’ You only find that by working towards it.”
O’Halleran said he will spend his final two months in Congress continuing to work on issues close to Arizona, like water, the state’s forests and border security. And he said his final floor speech will be about the nation and the need to reunite.
“We have to be able to overcome what people say off the top of their heads, whether it’s truthful or not, and start to work back to the fact that we’re neighbors, we’re Americans,” he said. “And we have a responsibility to listen to the factual discussion and try to find an area of compromise based on the facts.”
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