Steve Gaynor, a Republican businessman who poured more than $2 million of his money into his campaign, has won a tight race for Arizona Secretary of State, the Associated Press has declared.
At 10:30 p.m., with 29 percent of precincts reporting, he had won 51.2 percent of the vote. His opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, had 48.8 percent. Wednesday morning, little had changed. Gaynor had a lead of 41,152 votes out of almost 1.7 million cast.
As the state’s elections chief, Gaynor will also be second-in-command to Gov. Doug Ducey, who won re-election handily on Tuesday night. That puts him within reach of the governorship, should Ducey step down for any reason.
Shortly before the race was called on Tuesday, Gaynor said at the Republican watch party in Phoenix, “Votes are still getting counted, slowly I might add. We’re going to fix that.”
In his victory speech, he said, “It’s time to fix the problems in the Secretary of State’s office.”
The Hobbs campaign has not conceded the race. In a statement issued shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, campaign manager Niles Harris called the decision by the Associated Press “head-scratching.”
“The Associated Press has incorrectly called the Secretary of State race in Arizona with a razor-thin margin and hundreds of thousands of ballots remaining to be counted,” Harris said. “We are cautiously optimistic that when all the ballots are counted, Katie Hobbs will be elected Arizona’s next Secretary of State.”
Gaynor has no experience in public office. He spent much of his campaign promising to crack down on illegal voting and make voter identification more stringent. He also heavily criticized California for its regulatory environment and the incumbent secretary, Michele Reagan, as incompetent.
He promised to run the secretary of state’s race like a business, claiming that he’s skilled at turnarounds. As a businessman, he has paid to settled several lawsuits against his companies alleging underpayment of wages, discrimination and violations of a non-compete agreement.
Hobbs was first elected to the Arizona Legislature in 2010. She spent much of her campaign promising to find ways to ensure disenfranchised communities would have access to the ballot. She spent 11 years as the chief compliance officer at what was formerly the Sojourner Center, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
The race was closely contested, with polling that showed the two candidates neck and neck in the month prior to elections. Hobbs started off October trailing Gaynor by 14 points. By the end of the month, she had closed the gap significantly, even leading in some polls.
The two candidates ran on starkly different platforms.
In his campaign, Gaynor promised to overturn the consent decree, a settlement signed by Reagan in June. That agreement stops Arizona from demanding proof of citizenship from those registering to vote if those people have already handed in documentation to the Motor Vehicle Division. It also requires Arizona to allow those who register without proof of citizenship to cast ballots in federal elections.
“It makes it easier for illegals to vote,” Gaynor said in July of the settlement. “It makes it possible for them to register with our state form and vote in our federal elections.”
Most notoriously, Gaynor said in August that he thought all election materials in the United States should be in English. Under federal law, some ballots in the U.S. ballots must be in other languages, depending on U.S. Census demographics. Gaynor subsequently said he would follow the law, but he has also called for overturning certain laws, like the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which aimed at at streamlining registration.
Hobbs ran on a platform of improving voting rights. She advocated for enhancing access to the ballot box, especially for minorities and tribal communities, as well as rehabilitated felons. She also advocated for strong voter outreach and education.
They also have vastly different backgrounds. Gaynor is a wealthy businessman who made his money in the printing industry. He has no previous experience running for or holding elected office, and his campaign is almost entirely self-funded. By the end of October, of the more than $2.5 million he’d raised, $2.35 million had come from his own pocket.
Steven Hsieh contributed reporting.