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With home-state Sen. John McCain having officially accepted the GOP presidential nomination in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, Arizona Republicans are energized and looking to the top of the ticket to heal old intraparty wounds and lift their downballot candidates.
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen was candid about a long-standing feud within the state GOP, which found him and his supporters at odds with McCain and his, primarily over immigration policy. But in an interview last week, Pullen said both sides have worked to successfully bridge that divide, and Arizona Republicans are hoping to translate McCains expected success on the ballot at home this fall into a 3-point to 4-point bump for GOP House candidates running in key races.
Were in very good shape in Arizona, better than the last poll that you heard about, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told a breakfast gathering of Arizona and Nevada delegates last week at a St. Paul hotel. Even if John McCain wins, by, lets say, 10 points, he could make about a 3-point difference for some of our Congressional candidates.
Some polls have shown McCains lead over Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the 5-point to 10-point range smaller than expected in some circles. Kyl said McCains lead at home is solid but declined to reveal the margin, although Pullen said he has seen internal Republican numbers and described McCains lead as being in the 15-point to 20-point range.
On the heels of McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, accepting the nomination for president and vice president, Arizona Republicans were excited and optimistic about their prospects for victory this fall. But they were also realistic, acknowledging that Democratic incumbents running in the 5th and 8th districts would be tough to beat, and they conceded that the open 1st district would be tough to hold.
Having John McCain head the ticket will help all our candidates in the state. But it can only go so far, said Joe Abate, 62, a Phoenix attorney and convention delegate. But lets face it, the [Democratic] incumbents ... theyre both very tough opponents, so its an uphill battle.
The incumbents Abate referred to were freshman Reps. Harry Mitchell, who is running for re-election in the Phoenix-area 5th district, and Gabrielle Giffords, who is seeking a second term in the Tucson-area 8th district. Both districts lean Republican but were flipped by the Democrats in 2006.
Former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert last week won a hard-fought Republican primary for the right to take on Mitchell, and state Senate President Tim Bee is the GOP nominee against Giffords. In the open-seat 1st district race, former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is taking on anti-tax activist Sydney Hay (R).
Arizona Republicans credit Democratic gains in Arizona to the Democrats fielding good candidates. But more than that, they blame their own intraparty squabbling. In the past few years, the state party unofficially divided itself into two camps over a disagreement about how to address illegal immigration.
The McCain wing favored a comprehensive approach that included stronger enforcement but allowed for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants the Senator has since backed away from his support for a path to legalization. The Pullen wing favored an enforcement-first approach.