Republican Al Melvin has culminated a four-year pursuit to serve in the Arizona Senate.

Melvin, the SaddleBrooke resident who defeated two GOP incumbents in the last two primary elections, beat Democrat Cheryl Cage by 1,360 votes, 44,519-43,159, in last Tuesday’s general election for Senate District 26.

“I’m so far ahead now, she can’t catch me,” Melvin quipped Tuesday, hopeful that Pima County would finalize its vote totals.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s my first time running, and I got a late start,” Cage said Monday night, ducking out of a Democratic Party meeting.

Melvin had a strong edge over Cage in the Pinal portion of the district, essentially SaddleBrooke, where he won by 1,209 votes. “Pinal is a factor, certainly,” Cage said. “It’s heavily Republican, and he lives there.”

Melvin won in Pima County as well by 151 votes, 40,805-40,654 in unofficial tallies.

“It’s nice to have a win,” Melvin said. “I’ve only been at this for over four years. Anyone who runs for elective office, it’s quite an undertaking. You just don’t realize what’s involved, on your family, your friends, your supporters. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s great to see it all come together.

“It helps to have a campaign under your belt, which I’ve had in 2006,” Melvin said. “We learn from doing, we learn from experience. I think I ran a better campaign this time than then, based on the experience.”

“Melvin’s been running for three years, I ran for six months,” Cage said. “To be within 1,000 … is pretty darned good. We’re going to learn from it.”

In District 26, Democrats face a “huge voter disadvantage,” Cage observed. “That’s something we really have to work at. Change came to the United States on election night, the hopefulness, the intellectual curiosity of Obama, the progressive thoughts. That change just didn’t hit Arizona, and sometimes it takes a little longer to come. This was not obviously our year.”

She pegs part of the defeat on Proposition 102, the constitutional amendment that defines marriage between one man and one woman in Arizona. Arizonans voted for the amendment last Tuesday.

“The marriage amendment brought a lot of very conservative voters out,” Cage said. “I do really think the marriage amendment made a difference. They wanted to vote for the marriage amendment. A lot of moderate Republicans felt disenfranchised, so you don’t have those people coming out to vote.”

Melvin agreed on the “defense of marriage” effect.

“It won so resoundingly, and more Republicans were lined up for it, and more Democrats against it. Did it get out the vote? Absolutely. People turned out for it, Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals. It was a very effective campaign, a textbook campaign to get that proposition to succeed, and it really got out the vote.”

John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee “energized the base of the Republican Party,” Melvin continued. He also believes “the concern of Obama,” with his positions on health care and abortion as examples, “really scare a lot of people. We got out the base this time.

“I look forward to representing the district, and everybody in it, those who voted for me and those who didn’t,” Melvin said. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

It’s already begun, with briefings, tours and contacts. Melvin toured a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility on Monday. “It’s a great way to learn,” he said. He’ll attend a Washington event for recently elected conservative legislators in December.

Melvin is sworn in the first Monday in January. He has given committee assignment preferences to the Republican leadership, with appropriations at the top of his list, commerce and industry second.

“You can’t help but be humbled and honored by it,” Melvin said. “I’m struck by the words ‘your humble public servant.’ It’s like getting a new job. I’ve just been hired into a new job, it’s a clean slate.”

Cage is “ruminating” on the experience, “keeping a notebook about what I learned. I think I did a lot right.” She finds herself energized and wiser, and is preparing for another run.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she continued, vowing further forays into politics.

Some of the sting is taken away when Cage thinks about the Obama triumph.

“I could not be more pleased about this historic, wonderful win of Obama,” she said. “I cheer up every time I think about it.”

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