By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Six-term Republican congressman Jeff Flake beat back a Latino Democrat and former U.S. Surgeon General to claim victory on Tuesday in a hard-fought race for a vacant U.S. Senate seat from Arizona.
Flake, who has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2003, led Democrat Richard Carmona by 6 percentage points with around three quarters of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from the Arizona Secretary of State's office.
Flake, who will fill the seat vacated by Republican Senator Jon Kyl and campaigned on cutting the yawning federal deficit, thanked cheering supporters as results came in.
"Every vote I cast, every decision I make will be made knowing what's at stake and knowing that this state has to have a brighter future," he told them, pledging to pass a budget that would avoid piling on "more debt for our kids and grandkids."
Flake was joined by Senators John McCain and Kyl, whom he thanked.
Arizona, at the forefront of the national debate over immigration policy, has not elected a Democratic senator since Dennis DeConcini won a third and final term in 1988.
But Carmona, 62, had been boosted in part by a drive to register thousands of Hispanics riled by the border state's crackdown on illegal immigration, although the race focused largely on issues like jobs and the economy.
Carmona's life story was part of his campaign's appeal. He was raised in poverty in New York City by Puerto Rican parents who struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse.
"We ran a tough race," Carmona said. "Walking into tonight, I knew no matter the outcome everyone in this campaign can walk away with their heads held high."
Flake, 49, a fifth-generation Arizonan, galvanized the party's conservative base with his opposition to abortion and a record of voting to cut taxes and the size of government.
He also campaigned on a pledge to cut regulations to create jobs, reduce the yawning U.S. budget deficit and tighten security on the border with Mexico.
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)