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CD 1: Kirkpatrick takes lead over Paton in 'nail-biter'

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Flagstaff Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick pulled ahead of Marana Republican Jonathan Paton overnight in the race to represent Arizona's vast Congressional District 1.

With only two of 339 precincts yet to report, Kirkpatrick has 48.7 percent of the vote, to Paton's 45.4 percent. Kirkpatrick's lead was more than 6,000 votes, one of the most significant leads since returns began coming in Tuesday night.

Late Tuesday night, Paton predicted that he would win. Paton credited that expected victory to sheer hard work.

"We knew I wasn't from Northern Arizona and I was going to have to prove myself. So we did it with shoe leather," he said.

Kirkpatrick's team was not ready to give up Tuesday night.

"It's tight, it's a nail-biter, but we feel good," spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said. "We feel optimistic based on what's still out there," she added, referring to votes yet to be counted.

The race drew considerable national attention - and spending. Outside groups poured $6.5 million into the race, making it the most expensive congressional campaign in Arizona. The biggest spender was the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spent $2.5 million in the race in what it hoped would become a pickup of an open seat.

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who held the district's seat before redistricting, chose to move to Prescott and run in the new Congressional District 4.

District 1 covers 55,000 square miles - about half the state of Arizona. For the candidate, it's an unforgivingly complex cultural landscape, with suburban voters northwest of Tucson, farmers in Pinal County, miners in the Copper Basin, Mormon towns on the Mogollon Rim, and 12 Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation.

Voter registration figures give Democrats the advantage in the district, with 38 percent of the registered voters to 31 percent for Republicans and 30 percent independent. But Paton's camp banked on the idea that many of the Democrats are conservatives, some of them Mormon, who might vote for a Republican.

Kirkpatrick presented herself as a moderate Democrat and a child of the district, having grown up in the White Mountains and having spent her adult life in Flagstaff and Sedona.

Her campaign pointed out that Paton was a newcomer to the district, having moved to Marana only recently. They also tried to tie him to his past as a registered lobbyist who did some work for the payday-loan industry.

But Paton presented Kirkpatrick as a spendthrift liberal who would vote lockstep with President Obama. He said he would present a check on Obama's power.

In a speech Tuesday night, Paton called the voters' choice one of a "rubber stamp or a "check-and-balance."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

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