She raised little money, barely campaigned, wasn't endorsed by the state or county party, and was savaged by more than $1 million worth of attack ads -- yet Democrat Tina Maharath is headed for the Ohio Senate.

The 27-year-old workforce analyst from Canal Winchester has become one of the more unlikely state legislative winners in recent history. After provisional ballots were counted Nov. 27, she pulled ahead of state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville), who was trying to swap chambers after eight years in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Republicans have long held the 3rd Senate District, which includes New Albany, Gahanna, Westerville, Reynoldsburg and Groveport and part of western Columbus. But like much of Franklin County -- House Democrats picked up three suburban Columbus seats -- the district has tilted more Democratic in recent years, with Hillary Clinton winning by nearly 12 points in 2016.

Gonzales led by 329 votes following the Election Day count, but after provisional ballots and late absentees were counted Nov. 27, Maharath led by 705 votes -- 66,438 to 65,733. Maharath was named on 65 percent of the provisional ballots, putting her victory just outside the half-percent margin requiring a recount.

Maharath currently is out of the country visiting family, but she filed a jubilant live Facebook post from Bangkok, Thailand, where she was still in bed, awakened at 4:30 a.m. local time, "because I'm a new senator!"

"It seems so unreal right now," she said. "I couldn't have done this without everyone's support ... everyone who was there for me when I wanted to give up because I just kept thinking, 'I'm a woman, I'm a minority, I live in Columbus, they don't want me.' Well, I just won! I didn't need a recount. Haaa!"

Maharath wasn't supposed to be the Democratic candidate in the 3rd District. The party-backed candidate failed to secure the 50 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot -- the second consecutive time that has happened in this district. Then the party ran a write-in candidate, but Maharath easily defeated her in the primary.

With a litany of personal issues in her background, including her involvement in a 2007 fatal hit-and-run with a cyclist when she was 16 years old, Democrats refused to endorse Maharath and largely wrote off the race. Gonzales, a former mayor of Westerville, has been a strong House candidate over four elections.

In October, as she was under a full-scale political assault by Republicans, Maharath apologized for the driving incident, and she said her bankruptcy in 2016 came as a result of a "gruesome" divorce and child-custody battle.

"As a result, I was financially drained from all the legal proceedings," she said. "I made those decisions to ensure I had the best outcome for my child."

Republicans pounded her with mail, radio and television ads highlighting her issues, such as her being found guilty of selling alcohol to minors when she was in her early 20s.

In the end, Maharath became the only Ohio Democrat to pick up a GOP-held Senate seat -- the first flip for Senate Democrats since 2006. However, Senate Democrats also lost a seat near Youngstown and will remain in a 24-9 minority.

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) congratulated Maharath on the win and welcomed her to the caucus.

Asked months ago why she would run, knowing the type of attack ads Republicans would use against her, Maharath, who came to the United States in 1990 as a child of refugee parents from Laos, said, "I've been through hell and back, so this is not something that I can't handle."

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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