State Likely to Be a Battleground for Many Cycles

Posted March 10, 2008 at 6:39pm

It’s a big year for Arizona. Favorite son Sen. John McCain is the Republican presidential nominee and as many as four House seats could be heavily contested in November.

[IMGCAP(1)]Additionally, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) is a big supporter of the Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and could be in line for a Cabinet post if he wins the White House.

Such potential for turnover has generated speculation as to who — and which political party — stands to benefit in upcoming election cycles. There are plenty of individuals to choose from on both sides of the Arizona desert aisle.

Arizona Democrats, who have seen their numbers grow in recent years, are particularly enthusiastic about their chances — both this fall and beyond. Last cycle, Democrats flipped two Republican-leaning House seats: the Phoenix-area 5th district and the Tucson-area 8th district.

“No one would have imagined a few years ago that Democrats would be in a position to win six of our Congressional seats in 2008, but we are,” said Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens. “Our trajectory is going up — we’re well-positioned far into the future with strong candidates up and down the ballot.”

With McCain one election away from the presidency, there has been intense focus on who Napolitano would appoint to replace him should McCain win the White House in November.

McCain’s presidential campaign has said the Senator has no plans to resign his seat before the 2008 elections, meaning that whomever Napolitano would appoint to replace him would serve until the end of 2010, when the presidential contender’s seat was already scheduled to be up.

Although Napolitano is a Democrat, Arizona law requires the governor to replace a prematurely departed Senator with someone who is of the same political party of the incumbent. Therefore, Napolitano would have to appoint a Republican to replace McCain, should he win the presidency.

Democratic strategists have suggested that Napolitano, who may have designs on higher office herself, might be inclined to appoint a Republican who is a caretaker and is not interested in running for the seat when it is up in two years. Such individuals could come from her Republican supporters, some of whom are serving in her gubernatorial cabinet.

Among Napolitano’s high-profile GOP supporters are former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and Jack Jewett, a Tucson businessman and

longtime member of the state Board of Regents. Republican elected officials who backed Napolitano in her 2006 re-election bid include Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson and Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot.

If Napolitano turned to a member of her cabinet to replace McCain, she’d have several choices, including Bill Bell, director of the state Administration Department; Susan Gerard, director of the state Health Services Department; Don Butler, director of the state Agriculture Department; and Gale Garriott, director of the state Revenue Department.

Republicans considered as viable contenders for McCain’s Senate seat in 2010 should it be open for any reason include attorney Barbara Barrett, Reps. Trent Franks, Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, businessman Steve Chanen, businessman Jim Click, businessman Bennett Dorn and attorney Jordan Rose.

Democrats seen as potential Senate candidates in either 2010 or 2012 — when Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R) seat will be up — include Democratic National Committeeman Fred DuVal, who previously served in the administration of President Bill Clinton; wealthy developer Jim Pederson, who lost to Kyl in 2006 and previously served as state Democratic Party chairman; and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who declined this year to run for the House in the 3rd district.

Despite Democratic gains in the state in recent cycles, Republicans are confident that they are primed for a resurgence — and in particular are targeting freshman Reps. Harry Mitchell in the 5th district and Gabrielle Giffords in the 8th district.

“Arizona Republicans are fortunate to have a talented bench of current and prospective future candidates at the federal level who will bring ideas, credentials, records of success and even resources to their races in this and coming election cycles,” said Sean McCaffrey, spokesman for the Arizona GOP.

A bevy of Republicans are running in the 5th district GOP primary this year, including state Rep. Mark Anderson, state Corporation Commissioner Jeff Hatch-Miller, former state Rep. Laura Knaperek, lobbyist and former Congressional aide Jim Ogsbury, Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert and state Rep. Susan Bitter Smith.

If Republicans fail to oust Mitchell in November, they could turn to Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman in 2010.

In the 8th district, state Senate President Tim Bee is the consensus Republican candidate. Unlike 2006 GOP nominee Randy Graf, Bee has the support of former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R), who retired from the 8th district in 2006. But if Bee can’t get it done, look for Republicans to recruit Click, who is a possible self-funder; or state Rep. Jonathan Paton.

In 2006, Mitchell and Giffords were considered the strongest possible Democratic candidates for the 5th and 8th districts, respectively, and at this point, the Democrats do not have anyone in mind for those seats should either of them get ousted by their Republican opponents this fall.

In the competitive Northern Arizona 1st district, there are several Democrats and Republicans running to replace retiring Rep. Rick Renzi (R), who was indicted in February on 35 counts of extortion, money laundering and conspiracy relating to the lawmaker’s efforts to get the federal government to buy land from his business partner.

The 1st district has a majority of enrolled Democrats, but those Democrats tend to be conservative, which is a key reason for Renzi’s success.

If Renzi resigns before May 4, a special election would be held to finish the remainder of his term. If he resigns on May 4 or after, his seat would sit vacant until the winner of the November election takes office in January 2009.

Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the choice of establishment Democrats to win the Sept. 2 primary in the 1st district. Her opponents include attorney Howard Shanker (D), former television reporter Mary Kim Titla (D) and ex-House aide Jeff Riley (D).

Meanwhile, state Sen. Albert Hale (D) still has yet to rule out running for the seat this year. Apache County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Clark-Deschene, who is a Native American, is considered a candidate of the future. The 1st district’s Native American community constitutes a key voting bloc.

This year’s Republican candidates for the 1st district include 2002 primary candidate Sydney Hay, 2006 legislative candidate Preston Korn and state Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes. The Republicans’ preferred choice, state Rep. Bill Konopnicki, is still contemplating a run.

Konopnicki had decided against running this year but recently acknowledged that he was reconsidering. Former state Senate President Ken Bennett and GOP activist Steve Pierce are considered potential future candidates — Bennett was courted last year but declined to run.

In the 2nd district, which currently is held by Franks, state Sen. Ron Gould (R) is viewed by Republicans as a good potential candidate should the seat open at some point. Retired college professor John Thrasher (D) is challenging Franks this year.

In the 3rd district, Shadegg’s 10-day flirtation with retirement almost caused a cavalcade of Republicans to enter the primary in his GOP-leaning suburban Phoenix seat. Only former state Rep. Steve May (R) hung around to challenge Shadegg after the eight-term Republican reversed his decision to retire.

But in the event Shadegg ever follows through on retiring, look for state Speaker Jim Weiers (R) to run for this seat. Also considered potential candidates are state Sen. Jim Waring (R), Shadegg Chief of Staff Sean Noble (R), state Sen. Pamela Gorman (R), state Treasurer Dean Martin (R), Paradise Valley Mayor Ed Winkler (R) and Rose.

On the Democratic side, attorney Bob Lord is hoping to upset Shadegg in November. Democrats believe he could be a sleeper candidate, although Gordon, the Phoenix mayor, would probably be stronger.

Incumbent Reps. Ed Pastor (D) and Raúl Grijalva (D) are safely ensconced in the Democratic-leaning 4th and 7th districts, respectively, with neither Democrats nor Republicans having names at the ready to offer in the event that either Congressman retires.

In the 6th district, Flake is also seen as politically secure. But should he retire or run for Senate, Republicans could turn to state Rep. Russell Pearce. Activist Chris Gramazio (D) is running this year. He is untested politically, but could be a viable future candidate, according to a Democratic strategist.