Republicans will have their largest U.S. House majority in 83 years when the new Congress convenes next month after a recount in Arizona gave the final unresolved midterm race to a Republican challenger.
Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally won a House seat over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber by 167 votes out of nearly 220,000 cast, according to results released Wednesday.
Barber was district director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when he and the congresswoman were wounded in a mass shooting at a political event in Tucson in January 2011. Barber then won a special election to fill out the remainder of Giffords' term after she stepped down in early 2012. He went on to defeat McSally in that year's general election to win a full term in Congress, in a race separated by fewer than 2,500 votes.
Barber said he wouldn't contest the results and that he called McSally to congratulate her. "I want her to be successful because the people of southern Arizona deserve that," he said.
McSally said it was time to unite after a long campaign battle and that she plans to focus on economic development and border security. "These things are not politically charged, and really it's where the majority of people that I talk to, where they want my focus to be," she said. "So my intent is to represent them on the things that unite us and not the things that divide us."
Giffords and her husband, retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, congratulated McSally and reminded her that they support more gun control, an issue that came up in the campaign when their political action committee attacked McSally for not backing a law banning misdemeanor-convicted stalkers from buying guns. The ad was pulled after McSally said she had been a victim of stalking and supported keeping guns out of stalkers' hands.
"While it's no secret that we supported our friend Congressman Ron Barber in this hard-fought race, we are pleased that this campaign included an important and substantive debate on how to reduce gun violence in our communities," their statement read.
McSally, 48, was the first woman to fly in combat for the Air Force. Her victory came in a year that saw the GOP make big gains across the country. The results of the mandatory recount mean Republicans will hold their largest House majority since the administration of President Herbert Hoover, controlling 247 seats to 188 for Democrats.
The 2nd District was the last outstanding congressional race from the Nov. 4 general election.
The Tucson-area district is one of the most competitive in the nation. Giffords narrowly won her 2010 race over a Republican challenger in the months before she was wounded in the shooting that killed six and wounded her, Barber, and 11 others.
Barber was next to her when a gunman opened fire, striking her in the head and him in the face and leg.
Barber said he won't consider whether to run again until after the holidays. "The bottom line about this experience, it's been the most incredible honor of my life," he said.
Barber said extremely low Democratic turnout was a big factor in his loss, but McSally said her campaign was much more organized and experienced this year.
"Last time I only had 205 total days as a candidate from when I decided to step up and run for office with no political experience," McSally said. "I don't think we were really taken seriously as a candidate last time, so we kind of snuck up on them and almost pulled it off in 2012."
The 2nd District this election was considered a battleground, and millions of dollars in outside advertising poured into the race, on both sides. "They knew we were a serious threat this time," she said.
McSally led Barber by 161 votes after all ballots were counted last month. But the margin was so small it triggered an automatic recount that added six votes to her margin.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper announced the results in court Wednesday.
Barber, 69, had fought in several venues to get additional votes counted but was turned away at every effort. Separately, a group of voters tried to get the state Supreme Court to halt the recount because of the computer program used. That too was rejected.
McSally's win gives the GOP a 5-4 advantage in the Arizona congressional delegation.
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