PHOENIX (AP) — In a state that has long been considered friendly territory for the GOP, Arizonans gave their vote to Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race and chose another Republican, Jeff Flake, to represent them in the U.S. Senate.
Arizona had been considered an uphill battle for President Barack Obama, considering Democratic nominees have won it just once since 1948, but he won the race nationally.
Among voters who wanted a president who shares their values and is a strong leader, Romney took commanding leads over President Barack Obama.
Romney drew support from white voters and those over 65 years old, while Obama won high marks among Hispanics and younger voters, according to results of exit polling conducted Tuesday for The Associated Press and television networks.
Jex Engelbrecht, a 32-year-old doctoral student at Arizona State University in Tempe, cast his vote for Romney, saying the country was in shambles.
"He (Obama) hasn't done anything to improve the situation for us," Engelbrecht said. "The economy is worse, employment is worse, and there's nothing I can support that he's been part of."
Arizona voters considered the economy the most important issue facing the country, and they were overwhelmingly pessimistic, according to exit poll returns.
Asked to pick the most important issue among four choices, about six in 10 said the economy while one-fifth said they were worried most about the federal budget deficit. Most rated the economy as "not so good or poor."
A majority of voters said Romney would better handle the economy. Obama scored well among voters who believe he is in touch with "people like you."
Romney's victory in Arizona gave him 11 electoral votes but he fell short of what he needed nationally. The election in Arizona also featured the hard-fought U.S. Senate race that ended in a loss for Democrat Richard Carmona. National Democrats and Republicans were watching three U.S. House contests in Arizona that were too close to call late Tuesday night.
Republicans maintained control over both chambers of the state Legislature but saw their majorities shrink. Arizonans rejected ballot measures for a permanent sales tax increase and the adoption of a top-2 primary election system.
The state didn't draw much attention from Romney or Obama this year, with each candidate visiting just once in 2012.
Obama poured no resources into Arizona in 2008 when his opponent was home-state Sen. John McCain. This time around, he opened six offices and, like Romney, had been courting the Hispanic vote.
The tight race between Obama and McCain in Arizona four years ago reflected the growing number of Hispanics in the state and other changes in the population. Arizona's electorate now is split nearly evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents.
In the tight U.S. House races, Republican Martha McSally made a surprise late rally to take the lead in the 2nd Congressional District race against Rep. Ron Barber. Republican Jonathan Paton had a slight lead against Democratic Ann Kirkpatrick in the 1st District, while the battle between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker for the 9th District showed no sign it would end easily.
In the U.S. Senate race, Carmona fared better among Hispanics than Flake, who scored well among older voters, according to the exit poll.
Hispanic voters favored Obama, while Romney had support among almost three-quarters of white voters. Both Latino men and women favored Obama, according to exit poll results.
Constantino Lopez doesn't believe that either Romney or Obama could represent Hispanics well. But the registered independent cast his vote for Obama on the belief that people have become more optimistic about the economy under his administration.
"I believe we're on a rebound, and pretty soon there's going to be more people being full-time employed," he said.
Arizona has been seen as ground zero for the immigration debate. SB1070 was passed in 2010 amid voter frustration with Arizona's standing as the busiest illegal entry point into the country.
Exit poll results showed that Arizona voters would rather give illegal immigrants a chance to apply for legal status than be deported. That belief wasn't necessarily higher among those who supported Romney or Obama.
The survey of 1,634 Arizona voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 10 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 1,050 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.