Thursday, July 31, 2014

Race of the Day- Arizona Governor

96 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Arizona has made a lot of headlines over the past several years as battles raged surrounding the issue of illegal immigration and a controversial enforcement law passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, as well as a bill that would have allowed businesses to the right to refuse service to individuals based on religious convictions. To the relief of many, Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed that bill, which many described as "anti-gay", but still her tenure of Governor has been one that has greatly annoyed liberals throughout the country.

Brewer, then Secretary of State, became Governor in 2009 when her Democrat predecessor left to join Barack Obama's Cabinet. She quickly became a lighting rod though based on the illegal immigration issue, and her personal style which involved some pretty harsh criticism of Obama. While the left came to despise her, many on the right considered her to be somewhat of a political folk hero and some even mentioned her as a potential Presidential candidate. Nonetheless, Brewer remained focused on her job and despite her critics, was solidly elected to a full term in 2010. While she will not have served two full terms, state law holds that Brewer would be term-limited and ineligible to seek another term in 2014. However, for several months, she left open the possibility of challenging the law in order to seek another term. With it likely to be an uphill legal battle though, Brewer announced in March that she would leave office after her term.

With the office wide open, a plethora of Republicans would jump into the fray, but Democrats have long since united on their candidate, who will formally be nominated after the primary in late August. Fred DuVal worked in the Clinton Administration and is the former Chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, which deals with the state's university system. As a Democrat running statewide, he will need to hope to attract a lot of votes from liberal Wildcat and Sun Devil students and faculty as well as a strong turnout among the state's Hispanic voters. He seems to be a credible candidate, but Republicans usually do win in Arizona, and if anything, the state seems to have moved to the right since the election of Obama. While the issue of immigration might benefit Democrats nationally, the localized problems surrounding encroachment of the border in Arizona have led to support for more hardline Republicans.

Six Republican candidates will appear on the primary ballot for the right to try to succeed Jan Brewer. Only four of them can conceivably win the primary though and that does not include Andrew Thomas, the former Maricopa County Attorney who was disbarred for misconduct, as well as Frank Riggs, an ex-Congressman from California. They have both run hard to the right but have found it tough to gain traction in a race with other conservatives running.

The most moderate candidate in the GOP field is Scott Smith, the Mayor of Mesa. Most believe that he could do the best in appealing to Democrats in November, but that in and of itself may make it tougher for him in a conservative dominated GOP primary. He is running ads in which he goes against his primary opponents in siding with Governor Brewer on some issues before the state, which Tea Party types are not crazy about. If the conservative vote really does split several ways, there is an outside chance that Smith could prevail.

Leading most primary polls at this point are businesswoman Christine Jones, and State Treasurer Doug Ducey, who was elected to that office in 2010, after also having an impressive private sector background. Both Jones and Ducey are running as staunch conservatives, focusing on illegal immigration and being opposed to Obamacare. Ducey is perhaps considered the slight favorite to win the primary, as he has built an impressive coalition of establishment and conservative supporters in the state.

Jones will hope that her status as an "outsider" could help her in this race, and being the only woman in a crowded field would typically help. I would note though that the job of Arizona Governor has been held by a woman for the past 17 years and that four out of the last five Governors have been female. If voters are looking for "change" in the office, some might very well equate that with electing a man.

The final Republican candidate is Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who also first won statewide office four years ago, after in his case a lengthy business and political career. He is also considered to be quite conservative, but his reputation (putting aside the headlines he made in 2012 when he supported the effort to make all future Presidential candidates supply birth certificates) is that of being less divisive than his opponents. Bennett has been talked about as the "nice guy" in the race but seems to be running no better than third place. He and Smith are the two Mormons in the primary field, and could benefit from the votes of that sizable religious community in the Arizona GOP.

My perspective is that Ducey, Smith, and Bennett are all electable in November (and I would certainly not count out Jones either), but if I were an Arizona voter, I might be inclined to vote for Bennett in the primary. His lower key demeanor and nice guy reputation could be appealing to swing voters after all the turmoil of recent state politics, including the aftermath of the shooting of Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

However, much of what could have been support for Bennett seems to have gone to Ducey, making it difficult for the Secretary of State to break through to the top. Nonetheless, polls are showing a lot of undecided voters in the GOP primary and I can certainly envision a scenario in which all of the other candidates continue to lob political grenades at each other in what has already been described as a sort of nasty campaign, and weary voters decide to break late for Bennett, who has tried to remain above the fray.  It might be a long-shot, but things like that have happened in primary politics before.

Whomever emerges as the Republican nominee will have to work hard to unite the party. General election polls have showed all of the candidates running either closely ahead or closely behind DuVal. It must be taken into consideration though that such a crowded, divisive, and far from determined ongoing GOP primary is likely to keep down the numbers for any Republican candidate in such polling.

Arizona is conservative leaning and the midterm electorate is expected to be favorable towards Republicans. Democrats will be focused on trying to save some very vulnerable U.S. House Members in the state. They might also hope to pick up a down-ballot statewide office or two, after losing all of those races in 2010. Truth be told, most people expect a Republican to hold onto the office and while it will probably not be a slam dunk for the survivor of the primary, I think the eventual Republican nominee will succeed Jan Brewer in Phoenix.

Bennett campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 0D, 3 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 7 D, 10 R