PHOENIX - Former Democratic state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has been elected to represent a new Phoenix-area congressional district, emerging victorious after a bitterly fought race that featured millions of dollars in attack ads.
Sinema had a narrow lead on election night that made the race too close to call. But she slowly improved that advantage as more ballots were tallied in recent days, and by Monday had a nearly 6,000-vote edge that was too much for Republican Vernon Parker to overcome.
Sinema was flying to a New York and had no idea she won until she landed.
"When we landed and I turned on my phone I had 78 texts congratulating me," Sinema told ABC15 Monday night. "I felt confident, we had the lead the entire time, but yeah, my phone was going nuts when I turned it on."
Sinema becomes the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Her victory came in a year when three states approved gay marriage and at least five openly gay Democrats were elected to House seats. A Wisconsin congresswoman also became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.
"I am honored and ready to start working for the people of Arizona," Sinema said.
The 36-year-old was in New York City on Monday for an event held by a women's group and was headed to Washington on Tuesday for congressional orientation.
"I will celebrate later, maybe in December, but right now I am just going to focus and work on getting some things done, I'm looking forward to orientation," said Sinema.
Sinema said her first order of business is fighting for middle class families and in doing so will working across party lines.
"I'm willing to work with anyone from any party to break through this gridlock and solve problems for families," Sinema told ABC15. "Frankly we need a Congress that's interested in solving problems and willing to get past the partisan ideology."
Parker called her to congratulate her on the victory.
"While I had wished for a different outcome, I will continue my public service so that everybody can follow the American dream just like I did," Parker said in a statement.
During the race, Parker was criticized by Democrats as a tea party radical who would hurt children by cutting the federal education department.
Republicans countered saying Sinema was too liberal for the newly created district and doesn't understand stay-at-home moms.
Parker took the national stage briefly in September when he gave the GOP weekly address. He focused on stopping expected tax hikes and developing a tax code he said would help the economy grow and prevent jobs from being sent overseas.
Sinema said she had the ability to work across party lines. She said she developed the skill during her eight years in the state Legislature, where she was always in the minority. She also said she was committed to women's issues.
Sinema's congressional district covers parts of Phoenix and several suburbs, including the small, affluent town of Paradise Valley where Parker was once mayor.
Republicans had a slight registration advantage, but both parties' totals were exceeded by independents. Many believe the district leans Democrat.
The district was drawn as a result of population growth revealed by the latest census. It covers parts of Phoenix, much of Tempe, home of Arizona State University, and sections of other suburbs, including Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler.