Democrats May Also See Contested Senate Primary in Arizona

Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:57pm

Arizona Democrats are sensing a growing opportunity to capitalize on Republican divisions in the state’s 2010 Senate race, but they may also have to contend with a contested primary of their own.

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s (R-Ariz.) challenge to longtime Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is likely to tie up the incumbent’s resources and attention until the Aug. 24 primary, giving Democrats hope that with a strong, well-funded challenger, they could be positioned to create a competitive two-month sprint to the general election for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee.

With that in mind, excitement is growing around the possible candidacy of Nan Stockholm Walden, an attorney and co-owner (with her husband) of a 7,000-acre pecan farm south of Tucson.

David Steele, a spokesman for Walden’s Green Valley Pecan Co., said Walden has been asked to consider a Senate run and is doing just that. Walden expects to make a decision by early April, Steele said.

However, were Walden to jump into the race, she would likely have to contend with Rodney Glassman, the youthful Tucson city councilman who has been exploring the race for over a year. Because of Arizona’s resign-to-run law, Glassman has yet to formally announce his bid, but he is expected to do so sometime after April 6, after fulfilling a pledge to the Tucson mayor to serve until that time. Sources close to Glassman say he intends to run regardless of Walden’s decision.

Glassman has personal wealth to fund a campaign thanks to his family’s California farming business. He also has the support of Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), for whom he worked as an aide.

Grijalva told Roll Call that he met with Walden to discuss the race when she was in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He deemed her “very capable,” though he remains supportive of Glassman.

Walden has also had conversations with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens about the race.

Walden supporters point to her decades of experience in business, law and government, including stints in Washington as a staffer for then-Sens. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). Walden has also been active in local affairs in southeastern Arizona, including opposing a local mining operation and addressing border security and immigration issues.

“There’s been a number of issues on which she’s been an extraordinarily vocal and public figure,” political consultant and former state Democratic Party Chairman David Waid confirmed.

Walden is well connected in the business and Democratic communities in Arizona and, along with her husband, Richard, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and other political committees in recent years.

Her experience, however, cuts both ways. In addition to working in environmental law and in the public and nonprofit sectors, she has also spent several years as a registered lobbyist, first for the University of Arizona and currently for Farmers Investment Co., which owns the Green Valley Pecan Co.

The university received hundreds of millions of federal dollars for financial aid and research between 2001 and 2003, while Walden was registered to lobby there. Among major ongoing research projects that have received federal dollars is a shrimp aquaculture project, which nabbed an earmark in the fiscal 2010 omnibus appropriations bill that was the subject of Republican derision last year.

It is the sort of thing a fiscal conservative like McCain could seize on in a general election, though it may not win over Arizona voters to rail against funding for such a popular local institution. McCain included a $300,000 earmark for shrimp aquaculture research at the University of Southern Mississippi among a list of wasteful spending projects that he lambasted in a March 11 floor speech critiquing earmarks, but he did not mention any projects in his home state.

If the exploratory phase of Glassman’s campaign is any indication, he would bring energy and verve to the race, but there is concern that he lacks the sort of poise and gravitas to go up against someone of McCain’s stature.

“The common perception is he’s young and inexperienced,” said Carolyn Warner, one of Arizona’s Democratic national committeewomen, though she added that he is “very good on his feet, quite vocal and smart.”

Glassman has served two years on the Tucson city council, including his stint as vice mayor, and spent six years running his family’s ice skating rink in Tucson as he completed undergraduate and graduate degrees. He also worked as a consultant at KB Home Tucson.

Neither Walden nor Glassman have any significant name ID, but Warner cautioned that Walden would have a lot of ground to make up against Glassman in local party circles outside of her home base.

“He’s everywhere,” she said. “He has been making lots of noises for quite some time and is building some visibility within the party statewide.”

Glassman, for his part, has sought to play up his grass-roots credentials. He responded to reports of Walden’s recruitment as evidence that he is the anti-establishment candidate. “Arizonans believe it’s time to send an Arizonan to Washington instead of letting Washingtonian insiders continue to represent us,” he said in a March 4 statement.

Bivens, the state Democratic Party chairman, said that given Walden’s “excellent reputation” in her community, “I don’t think there would be any suspicion about her credibility as a candidate.”

Bivens plans to remain neutral if there is a contested primary, but he acknowledged that his “preference as state chair is to have a presumptive candidate.”

“If Democrats go fighting tooth and nail to the finish line, sure, it’s not helpful,” Waid said. But, he said, “The real story will be if John McCain loses [the primary].”