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Mon, Feb. 17

Napolitano ahead <BR>But governor's race undecided

PHOENIX — Democrat Janet Napolitano held a narrow lead in the governor's race and faced the prospect that it could be days before a winner gets to celebrate. Republican Matt Salmon said he expected tens of thousands of ballots yet uncounted to turn the election his way.

In unofficial returns with all precincts reporting this morning, Napolitano, the state's attorney general, led by about 25,000 votes.

However, officials still have to tally a large number of early ballots and ballots they need to hand check.

Salmon, a former U.S. representative, said Maricopa County, alone, has 150,000 ballots still uncounted, and it has 60 percent of the state's registered voters.

Based on interviews with county election officials around the state before polls closed, The Associated Press estimated that at least 200,000 early ballots, most of them in Maricopa County, remain uncounted.

More than 600,000 voters requested early ballots. AP estimated that 58 percent of early ballots were turned in with enough time to be counted with Tuesday's election returns.

Counties must verify early ballots that arrive by mail after an appointed hour on election day as well as those that are left at polling places. Karen Osborne, Maricopa County's elections director, said the process could take seven to 10 days.

Salmon pointed to votes outstanding in Maricopa County, normally a GOP stronghold, as a signal that he'd come back. However, Napolitano trailed only narrowly in returns from Maricopa County counted by early today.

Salmon told his supporters that he and they would win rewards, thanks to hard work by GOP activists who used phone banks to mobilize supporters.

"We're going to have to wait a few days to taste that victory," Salmon said. "In just a few days, you're going to be calling me governor-elect."

Napolitano built a solid lead in Pima County, a traditional Democratic bastion that includes Tucson.

The race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Jane Hull also featured independent Richard Mahoney and Libertarian Barry Hess. They trailed far behind the major parties' nominees.

Napolitano led in most polls after the Sept. 10 primary but by last week was neck and neck with Salmon in one statewide poll as advertising heated up. Salmon attacked Napolitano on fiscal issues and Democratic ads criticized Salmon's voting record.

During the campaign, Salmon tried to paint Napolitano as a liberal big-spender who would increase taxes, while Napolitano said Salmon would continue Republican leadership that had neglected education and health care during the past decade.

"People were not buying Matt's message and they appreciated that I was approaching things with common sense," Napolitano said.

She called the election "a wake-up call" to state government to improve education, balance the budget and return "civility and bipartisanship" to government.

Republicans have held the governor's office since 1991 and also controlled both chambers of the Legislature during most of that period.

The governor's race centered on Napolitano and Salmon's differing approaches to erasing a budget shortfall projected at up to $500 million in the current fiscal year's $6.2 billion budget. Hull has warned that the state could face a $1 billion shortfall next year.

Salmon promised spending cuts and other moves, such as selling the state fairgrounds and other assets, to balance the budget without tax increases.

Salmon also said that he would reduce the size of the state government while focusing on priorities such as improving classroom education.

Napolitano said the state would need to cut spending and eliminate some corporate tax exemptions to balance the budget while protecting funding for education.

On the Net:

Hess campaign:

Mahoney campaign:

Napolitano campaign:

Salmon campaign:

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