Around the U.S. in 50 days: Arizona

Arizona is ground zero in the immigration debate in this country. With the fate of their “controversial” S.B. 1070 and similar laws in other states safely in the hands of the Supreme Court, this topic will inevitably play a role in the Arizona political debate. A Court ruling either way just as the campaign season is heating up will make for some interesting discourse at the national level and certainly in Arizona.

First, the Presidential race. Some early polls show a “chance” for Obama in 2012. Most analysts attribute this to the generally weak Republican field of candidates. However, in hypothetical match ups, Arizona is a rarity in that polls indicate Romney would win here. In reality, I disagree with the polls showing Obama having a “chance.” Although he tends to show more favorable ratings among independents, in the end, there are more Republicans than Democrats in Arizona. Thus, although he will probably perform better than he did in 2008, this state will not go for Obama.

Republican Senator John Kyl is retiring at the end of this term leaving the race an open seat. A lot of Democratic paralysis is predicated upon the political aspirations and recovery of popular Representative Gabrielle Giffords. However, the longer that decision takes, the less time there is to organize and run a statewide campaign. Given the rigors of such a race, it is doubtful she will throw her hat into the Senatorial sweepstakes. Her best decision would be to continue her recovery and strength and possibly take on the run for John McCain’s seat in 2016.

Thus far, the only two viable Republican candidates are businessman Wil Cardon and Representative Jeff Flake. In Arizona politics, both are considered equally strong candidates as both would most likely defeat the two most viable Democrats running. Flake is leaving the newly numbered 5th District for this Senate run. His biggest competition seems to be a former ally in Wil Cardon who certainly has access to a large personal fortune. However, his “campaign,” if one could label it that, is suspect. He allegedly entered the race as a “true conservative” and outsider, but he will have to reconcile that claim that he was a huge donor to both Flake and McCain. What has soured him on Flake in such a short period of time? Flake and McCain, incidentally, are not exactly darlings in Arizona conservative circles. Flake is a champion against pork spending and in 2010, several mayors, including Republicans, signed on against Flake arguing that he failed to bring pork to their towns. His stance as won him the support of fiscal conservative groups like the Club for Growth and American Taxpayers Union. On fiscal issues, he has the conservative credentials. What irks many Arizona Republicans and conservatives is that he was one of 18 Republicans to vote in favor of repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, although he voted for a national ban on gay marriage. Additionally, his alleged “open borders” stance really is disturbing to Arizona conservatives. It will be interesting to see if he tacks to the right in order to appease them and this may serve as a wedge issue in the Republican primary. He can painted as a moderate which would open an opportunity for a more conservative nominee to come along.

On the Democratic side, the two declared candidates are Don Bivens, the former state Democratic chair, and Richard Carmona, Bush’s former Surgeon General. Bivens is certainly known within Democratic circles which explains why Democratic officials past and present are lining up behind him. However, his tenure as chair of the Party was marked by highly partisan rhetoric and actions and he is not well-known among the general electorate. Carmona, on the other hand, seems to be the choice of the national party. As Bush’s Surgeon General, Republicans had to defend his positions, record, and temperament in the nomination process. Most likely, those issues will now be used against him by Republicans should he get the nod. Among the still potential nominees are Rodney Glassman, who lost to McCain in 2010, Rep. Pastor, and Terry Goddard, who lost to Jan Brewer in 2010. Removing Giffords from the equation, polls indicate that Goddard would most likely win a primary battle. However, among the declared candidates, it would be a horse race and the more money they spend and attacking one another, the greater the chances of Republicans prevailing. I am calling this race as a Republican retention, most likely Jeff Flake.

Arizona gains a seat in the House as a result of the census. Initial plans were scrapped and Jan Brewer had the commission’s chairwoman ousted for “gross misconduct” although she was reinstated by the Arizona Supreme Court. They recently released a new and likely to be approved new map of Congressional districts for the 2012 elections.

The 1st District, currently represented by Republican Paul Gosar, should be even more competitive than 2010 in a rematch with Ann Kirkpatrick. There is some speculation that Gosar could move into the new 4th District which is considered more favorable Republican territory. However, other Republican incumbents are considering such a move and David Schweikert would seem to have priority here. Should Gosar move, there are no Republicans in the wings which would give Kirkpatrick a huge advantage. Strategically, he should stay put and face Kirkpatrick and hope a third party candidate emerges, which is what happened in 2010 and siphoned votes from Kirkpatrick. The 2nd District is the former 8th and is safely Democratic and represented by Giffords. Anthony Powell has entered the race and announced he will step aside and run for the Green Party if Giffords runs again. The 3rd is the former 7th and incumbent Raul Grijalva should have no problems against GOP hopeful Gabriela Saucedo Mercer.

The new 4th is much of the old 2nd with parts of the 1st, 5th and 6th. It extends along the entire western border with California and is considered safely Republican. Thus, the rush of incumbents in other areas to this more friendly territory. It is possible that Schweikert or Gosar can run here although Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeau and state senator Ron Gould are considering runs should an incumbent not move here from another district. The 5th is the former 6th being vacated by Jeff Flake. It is safely Republican with no shortage of possible successors with Kirk Adams having the inside track. Controversial state senate president Russell Pearce is considering a run, but he may prove too controversial in the end.

The 6th is the old 3rd District. Both Scweikert and Ben Quayle, Republican incumbents, may seek re-election in this district. Meanwhile, the 7th is safely in Pastor’s Democratic hands while the 8th is safely in the hands of Republican Trent Franks. That leaves the new Tempe-based 9th District. Thus far, only Krysten Sinema has entered the race on the Democratic side. Openly bisexual, she was an early and vocal Obama supporter in 2008. Many of her stances are to the left. If not viable, Andrei Cherney (current party chair), Harry Mitchell (a former Representative), or David Shapira (state senate minority leader) may run for the Democrats. Although most experts consider this district a toss up, it concerns me for two reasons. First, all the names mentioned thus far are Democrats as no Republican has stepped forward thus far. Second, Tempe is a college town and college towns tend to vote Democratic. At this stage, until a viable Republican enters the race, I would have to call this district for the Democrats.

To summarize, the eventual GOP nominee for President will win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes although the margin of victory will be smaller than 2008. Republican Jeff Flake will retain the seat held by Kyl. The current House delegation is 5-3 Republican. Gosar is probably the only vulnerable incumbent Republican and absent a third party candidate and because the redrawn territory takes in more Democratic friendly areas, Kirkpatrick will sneak by him by a very small margin. Additionally, at this early stage, the new 9th district will go to the Democrats in a close vote. The new delegation will be 5-4 Democratic, a two seat pick up.

Running count thus far:
Obama with 78 electoral votes to the GOP nominee’s 36;
No change in the Senate;
Net gain of two Governors, and;
Net loss of 4 Republican seats in the House.

Next: New Mexico