Sunday, July 29, 2012

Arizona U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Arizona U.S. Senate

July 29, 2012
100 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Likely Republican

For three terms, Arizona's junior U.S. Senator has been Jon Kyl, a very conserative policy wonk who rose to become the number two Republican in the Senate. In 2006, he had faced a competitive Republican effort, but still won comfortably as the Grand Canyon State has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1980s.

When Kyl announced he would not seek reelection early last year, Democrats felt they had a ray of hope of picking up a seat in a state that is considered competitive politically, and one name that was mentioned was that of the recently wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, with the feeling that if she recovered enough to mount a campaign for the Senate, she would be virtually unbeatable. We may never know about that circumstance, but both Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly declined to seek the Senate seat or any other office in 2012 and Democrats were forced to look elsewhere.

While a former state Democrat Party Chairman had enterered the race and was actively campaigning, he eventually would withdraw in favor of the now presumptive nominee, Dr. Richard Carmona. The physician had come to prominence as the Surgeon General in the Administration of Republican President George W. Bush. Despite his political appointment by Dubya, and being a registered Independent, Democrats had reached out to Carmona to join their party and seek the Senate seat, feeling he would be a promising candidate.

On the GOP side, the names of several of the state's many Republican politicos were bandied about, but the frontrunner soon emerged in Congressman Jeff Flake. During his six terms in the U.S. House (which has traditionally been a breeding ground for future Arizona U.S. Senators), Flake amassed a strongly conservative record, especially on issues like earmark spending, reminiscient of John McCain, the man who he now hopes to be serving alongside with, but also has shown bits of a maverick streak himself on issues such as wanting to normalize U.S. relations with communist Cuba.

Additionally, Flake has angered some conservatives by supporting a guest worker program for immigrants and by being just one of 15 Republicans in the House to vote to overturn the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, in order to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Those votes earned him the opposition of some on the party's right flank for his statewide ambition and while he is strongly favored to win, he is facing several opponents in a late August primary. The most serious primary opponent for Flake is businessman Wil Cardon, who has won the endorsement of one of Flake's conservative Arizona House colleagues, Trent Franks, who declined to seek a primary fight with Flake after it looked like he was going to run himself.

Interestingly enough, both Flake and Cardon are Mormon and are vying to run on a ticket with the nation's first Mormon candidate on the national stage. While Cardon could be competitive, few expect him to deny Flake, who has both establishment and conservative organizational support of the nomination. A strong Mormon turnout in the general election, in a state that has many members of that Church could work to benefit both Flake and Mitt Romney, while it is also worth noting that the Democrat Carmona, who is of Puerto Rican descent might get increased support from the state's growing Hispanic population.

The state of Arizona has received a ton of headlines over the past few issues, often for controversial reasons such as the state's immigration law, and for the political fingerpointing after the tragic Giffords shooting. Nonetheless, while this open Senate election could be reasonably competitive, it does not appear destined to be one of the major battleground races of the cycle, assuming Republicans nominate Flake.

Congressman Flake  is expected to have a distinct financial advantage over Carmona and almost all polling to this point has shown him with a solid lead. If Cardon were somehow to pull a major primary upset, the general election would immediately become a tossup, but considering all the prominent national conservatives that have lined up behind Flake, it is hard to see how enough conservatives would abandon him in August.

While he has his new party lined up behind him, Carmona is a first time candidate taking on a more experienced opponent and it remains to be seen just how strong the Democrat will prove to be on the stump. Arizona might not be a totally Republican bastion, but the GOP has done very well there in recent cycles, and the Presidential dynamics are likely do more to favor Flake this year in the state.

Flake campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 0 D, 1 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 30 D, 38 R