PHOENIX - Congressional candidate Gary Kiehne conceded to Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin on Tuesday in the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District.
The Springerville rancher and businessman was trailing Tobin by just 324 votes out of nearly 52,000 cast, but just one county had a large number of ballots left to count in the race -- and Tobin was winning there handily.
Tobin has held a lead of less than 500 votes in the week since voters went to the polls, and fewer than 3,000 votes remained to be counted as of Tuesday morning. The last are expected to be completed by midday Wednesday.
"This was a hard-fought and very close election that we fell just short of winning," Kiehne said in a statement. "My top priority this fall is to see Republicans win here in Arizona, so I want to offer all of my support to our Republican nominee Andy Tobin and all of the other Republican nominees in the general election."
The counties where Kiehne was doing well -- Apache, Gila, Navajo, Greenlee and Graham -- had completed their counts by Tuesday, so the rancher from the eastern Arizona community of Springerville had little chance of taking a lead.
Coconino County, where Tobin is beating Kiehne by more than 10 percentage points, is the only county with large numbers of ballots yet to be counted.
"At the end of the day, we didn't see the math," said Chris Baker, Kiehne's campaign spokesman.
Tobin now faces Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the November general election. She already is being targeted by national Republicans who have committed $2 million to advertise in the swing district running from Flagstaff to the northern Tucson suburbs. The National Republican Congressional Committee is also running ads targeting Democratic Rep. Ron Barber in Arizona's 2nd District.
"This is the only state in the country where we are currently up in two districts, and we view these as two of our best pickup opportunities of anywhere in the country," NRCC national press secretary Daniel Scarpinato said.
Keihne and the third-place finisher, state Rep. Adam Kwasman, are supporting Tobin.
"We all agree: We must replace Ann Kirkpatrick this November so that rural Arizona can have a voice in Congress again that isn't beholden to Nancy Pelosi," Tobin said in a statement.
Kirkpatrick plans to spend big to defend her seat, and she has reserved $1.75 million in television time through the election.
Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen said its remaining ballots are expected to be tallied by midday Wednesday. About 2,000 ballots remain there.
Tobin has said he's dissatisfied with what he sees as a loss in reputation for America as the global powerhouse. He says it's clear he has improved Arizona through balancing budgets, cutting taxes and growing jobs.
Tobin struggled with fundraising in the primary. But he was helped by a big ad buy by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which wanted him over third-place finisher state Rep. Adam Kwasman and Kiehne, who were seen as less business-friendly.
Kirkpatrick won the 1st District seat in 2008, lost it in the 2010 tea party wave and then prevailed by less than 10,000 votes in 2012.