In what likely was the most expensive legislative election campaign in state history, a longtime Chandler legislator whose district includes part of Gilbert appeared to eking out a victory.
The latest unofficial results of Tuesday’s election showed Sen. J.D. Mesnard escaping an aggressive challenge from Democrat Ajlan AJ Kurdoglu in Legislative District 17.
LD 17 also saw incumbent Democrat Jennifer Pawlik take a commanding lead over two GOP candidates in a three-way race for two House seats.
Incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Weninger held a slim lead for the other House seat over Chandler Realtor Liz Harris.
In the Chandler Unified Governing Board race, the three candidates on the ballot – incumbent Barb Mozdzen and newcomers Joel Wirth and Jason Olive – appeared to be shoe-ins despite a late write-in campaign by former CUSD teacher Sharon Tuttle. No results were provided for Tuttle.
Mesnard, who began building a comfortable lead late Wednesday with 52 percent, or 62,066 votes, to Kurdoglu’s 48 percent, or 57,412 votes, had been embroiled in a campaign where independent organizations spent $2.7 million on top of the $411,268 the candidates themselves shelled out.
The latest filings with the Arizona Secretary of State showed organizations, many from outside Arizona, spent a whopping $1.33 million advocating for his defeat and another $616,572 advocating his reelection to a second term.
Other groups spent another 410,473 advocating against Kurdoglu and $318,550 for him.
That’s on top of at least $288,682 Kurdoglu spent from a war chest totaling $401,484 and the $152,586 Mesnard spent from his $249,758 in donations to his campaign.
Mesnard’s apparent victory helped Republicans keep control of the Arizona Legislature. Although races in some legislative districts appeared to be too close to call on Friday, House Republicans already reelected Mesa Republican Rusty Bowers as House Speaker.
Meanwhile, in the LD17 House race, Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, the only Democrat running, topped both Republican rivals in the race for two seats. Pawlik garnered 34 percent of the vote to Rep. Jeff Weninger and Realtor Liz Harris, who both got 33 percent of the vote.
Pawlik won the money race both in terms of the cash her own campaign raised and the help she received from independent groups.
Records show Pawlik, a Chandler teacher, raised $246,614 to three-term Weninger’s $210,536 and Harris’ $92,331.
In addition, independent groups poured $154,386 into ads and other material advocating Pawlik’s reelection to a second term and $120,900 against her.
By contrast, independent groups spent $147,817 to defeat Harris and only $19,991 in her behalf.
Wenginer attracted $79,000 in support from independent groups while other organizations spent $66,700 trying to oust him.
Mesnard said that despite a nearly 10,000 registration edge for Republicans in the district, independent organizations that opposed him apparently thought that LD17 could be flipped, putting Democrats closer to control of the State Senate.
But as the week wore on, that appeared unlikely in either legislative chamber.
Preliminary results showed that Democrats fell short of their goal of taking control of one or both chambers.
Even turnout supporting legalizing recreational use of marijuana and taking the state’s richest residents to help finance K-12 education, issues that could be considered popular among Democrats, were not enough to convince the majority of voters in the state’s 30 legislative districts to shift away from their patterns of who they want to send to the Capitol to craft state laws.
The bright spot for the Democrats was the ouster of veteran state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee from the district that encompasses north central Phoenix and Paradise Valley. Democrat Christine Marsh, a former teacher of the year who lost narrowly to Brophy McGee two years ago, was running 5 points ahead of her this time.
But the result in what had at one time been a dependable Republican district – it is home to Gov. Doug Ducey and former Vice President Dan Quayle – may be no surprise.
There has been a steady shift in political sentiments as shown by the fact that both state representatives from LD 28 already are Democrats.
Mesnard said there were several factors that might have made Democrats think LD17 is following LD28.
“Any district that’s in the single digits advantage and that has a sizeable independent or no-party affiliation segment is going to be looked at with that potential, whether it’s a blue district or a red district.”
He noted that Republicans’ registration advantage in LD 17 has slipped from the time the district was form in 2012 from 15 percent to about 6 percent.
He said Pawlik’s victory in 2018 also had likely fueled Democrats’ hopes of turning the district blue.
Absent some last-minute updates, Republicans remain in control of the Senate, though their margin now is just 16-14.
Across the courtyard there appears to have been no net change in the 31-29 GOP edge in the House, though there are a few races where votes are not yet counted.