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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

US Democrats crack the Republican firewall in Arizona and Orange County

Democrats are on their way to score wins in Republican strongholds in the west

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema speaks to a supporter in Phoenix, Arizona. AP Photo
Democrat Kyrsten Sinema speaks to a supporter in Phoenix, Arizona. AP Photo

Buoyed by an anti-Trump sentiment and an energised base that voted in high numbers on November 6, the US Democratic Party is on its way to crack a three-decade-old firewall that the Republicans have built in Arizona and Orange County districts of California.

In Arizona, rising Democratic star Kyrsten Sinema was on her way, barring major surprises, to deliver a major upset and take the Senate seat held by Republican Jeff Flake. With only three precincts left to count, Ms Sinema, 42, had pulled ahead of Martha McSally by 32,640 votes as of Sunday night. She had 49.6 per cent of the votes compared to 48.1 per cent for Ms McSally, with 99 per cent already counted.

Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has already called the race for Ms Sinema. He tweeted on Sunday night that the race “has been over for a while”, and expected Arizona to be one of the six swing states that will decide the 2020 presidential election.

Ms Sinema's campaign manager Andrew Piatt did not declare victory but said as much in describing her mathematical lead "insurmountable".

"Kyrsten has now expanded her overall lead to 32,640 or 1.52 per cent, meaning McSally would have to win the remainder of Maricopa County ballots by 22 per cent to take the lead in this race,” Mr Piatt said. "This is not plausible. Kyrsten will be declared the next US Senator from Arizona."

But Jim Bognet, Ms McSally’s campaign manager, gave no sign of conceding. Despite falling behind, he said: "The latest release provides compelling evidence that the remaining uncounted ballots are favourable to Martha. And we will continue our effort to make sure all lawful ballots are counted.”

According to Politico, more than 160,000 votes were outstanding in Maricopa County, where Ms Sinema now leads Ms McSally by about 46,000 votes. For Ms McSally to win, she has to reverse her fortunes in the Maricopa by winning by more than 20 per cent, instead of currently losing by 6.25 per cent.

Ms Sinema's lead in Arizona is significant because no Democrat has won a Senate seat in the Grand Canyon state since Dennis DeConcini in 1988. After flipping the Nevada Senate seat, where incumbent Republican Dean Heller lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen, the blue party is slowly but surely making cracks in the Republican firewall in the American Southwest.

Overall, a win for Ms Sinema would shrink the Republican gains in the Senate to 53-47 if the GOP wins the recount in Florida and the run-off election in Mississippi.

In the House, where Democrats have gained 33 seats so far, all eyes are on Orange County, where six highly contested races could go for the Democrats. “No county — no part of a county — has been at the heart of conservatism since the 1960s like the coast between Dana Point and the Los Angeles County line", is how the Los Angeles Times described the area.

Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who represented the 48th district for 30 years and last won by a double-digit percentage, lost the seat to Democrat Harley Rouda by 8,500 votes. Mr Rohrabacher was one of most vocal supporters of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in Congress.

Supporters of Democratic candidate Harley Rouda celebrate as they watch the returns for the 48th Congressional District seat. AFP
Supporters of Democratic candidate Harley Rouda celebrate as they watch the returns for the 48th Congressional District seat. AFP

In the 49th district that includes part of Orange County, the Republicans lost outgoing Lebanese-American congressman Darell Issa’s seat, which he had held since 2001. Democrat Mike Levin won against a Trump ally Republican Diane Harkey by a margin of 9.3 per cent.

Experts warned of a complete wipeout of Republican seats in the county when all the ballots are counted.

“If Republicans don't hold any seats in Orange County, that would mean just four out of 25 House Republicans left in Clinton districts," Josh Kraushaar of the The National Journal tweeted, pointing out that the Democratic candidates in three of those four seats were weak.

In the short term, the Democratic gains in historically Republican districts give the party a wider margin in the House of Representatives to launch investigations and subpoenas against Mr Trump’s team. In the long term, it is a cause for alarm to Republicans over how the electoral map for 2020 and future races will look.

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