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Democrats focus on 5 House districts

As the Republican Party looks to strengthen its grip on the House of Representatives, Democrats are hoping a groundswell of anti-Republican sentiment fomenting on a national level will trickle down to local politics, giving the minority party an opportunity to gain some ground at the Legislature.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 39-21, and are hoping to add a seat in order to increase the likelihood of overriding vetoes by Governor Napolitano. Democrats, though, have targeted five districts — four of which have split representation currently — as prime candidates for increasing their numbers, including two districts that have historically been Democrat strongholds and another that has been traditionally supported moderate Republicans.
If they win all of the seats — an outcome most observers say is unlikely — Democrats would narrow the membership advantage of Republicans to 34-26, giving the minority caucus decidedly more influence over policy and the budget.
Republicans, on the other hand, hope to gain at least two seats and figure to have a more conservative caucus when the session begins in January.
District 17
As the most competitive district in the state, at least in terms of registration numbers, the battle for the Tempe and south Scottsdale district has been fierce. Both parties have two candidates in the race: Ed Ableser and David Schapira for the Democrats, Laura Knaperek and Dale Despain for the Republicans.
The area has been represented in the House by a Republican and a Democrat since 2001, when Meg Burton Cahill replaced Mike Gardner, and it’s likely each party will win a seat again this year.
However, some observers say Mr. Ableser — a sitting senator who replaced congressional candidate Harry Mitchell, who resigned during the last session — is a sure bet to be elected and Ms. Knaperek, the only incumbent in the race, is vulnerable to Mr. Schapira.
If the Democrats win both seats, it would be a blow to the Republicans, as Ms. Knaperek has served in the House for all but two years since 1995 and is a former Appropriations Committee chair. With Mr. Mitchell, who represented the district at the Legislature since 1999 and was Tempe’s mayor from 1978 to 1994, running for Congress against Republican incumbent J.D. Hayworth, Ms. Knaperek said there is some concern that voters who support him may then vote for the Democrat House candidates.
District 24
Another historically split district, Yuma and La Paz County voters have chosen a Republican and Democrat for the House since 1992. The crowded field this year sports two from each party, with Lynne Pancrazi and Theresa Ulmer representing the Democrats and Joseph Melchionne and Ken Rosevear as the Republican candidates.
Each party sees this district as an opportunity to take a seat away from the opposition, though for different reasons. Democrats are banking on their registration advantage — they outnumber Republicans by about six percentage points — to lead them to victory.
Republicans, on the other hand, are counting on the conservative Democrats — especially those frustrated with illegal immigration — to support the Republican candidates. Historically, the district has supported Democrats and Republicans equally, but in 2004, Republican candidates received 58 percent of the vote.
Observers expect the district to split once again, largely because voters are likely to cross party lines, and Ms. Pancrazi, a Democrat, and Mr. Rosevear, a Republican, are considered the frontrunners.
District 23
Cheryl Chase’s defection last summer from the Democrat Party to the GOP during the middle of her term increased the majority’s advantage to 39-21. Though Ms. Chase is not seeking re-election, Republicans are hoping to not only retain her seat, but win the other away from longtime legislator Pete Rios.
Democrats Mr. Rios and Barbara McGuire are running against Republicans John Fillmore and Frank Pratt, who narrowly lost to Mr. Rios in 2004.
Though the district has long been a safe haven for Democrats, recent population booms in Pinal County have caused the voter registration numbers to trend Republican, with Democrats holding only a 12-percentage-point lead over Republicans, about half of what it was just two years ago.
Democrats are confident they can retake the seat from the Republicans and send both of their candidates to the House. Political observers tend to agree and say that the Democrats can control the district for at least one more term, though there is a good chance Mr. Pratt wins one of the seats, as this is his second campaign and many voters are familiar with him.
District 25
Last summer, Democrats set their sights on capturing the seat Republican Jennifer Burns held in the largely Democratic district. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a dozen percentage points, voters elected the moderate Republican in 2002 and re-elected her in 2004.
As she seeks re-election this year, Ms. Burns faces a challenge from both sides, as Gail Griffin, a more conservative Republican and the former chair of the Cochise County Republican Party, is also up for election. Democrats hope incumbent Manny Alvarez and Patricia Fleming can win both seats and unify the district’s representation.
As the only Hispanic candidate in a district where nearly 40 percent of voters are Hispanic, Mr. Alvarez is seen as a shoo-in by many observers. The Democratic Party is urging voters — who opted for the Republican candidate 52 percent of the time in 2004 — to vote for both of their candidates, while Ms. Burns is appealing to moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. Ms. Griffin is expected by many to run a single-shot campaign and ask Republican voters to vote for her only and not cast a second vote in the race.
The winner of the second seat will likely be Ms. Burns or Ms. Fleming, observers say, though the incumbent is given the advantage because of her four years of service.
District 26
The biggest victory for Democrats in House races would be in this district, as its voters have historically elected moderate Republicans. Although outnumbered by about 10 percentage points, Democrats hope the presence of conservative Republican David Jorgenson will sway Republican voters to either only vote for incumbent Pete Hershberger or for him and Democrat Lena Saradnik.
In the primary election, Mr. Jorgenson defeated moderate Republicans Lisa Lovallo and Carol Somers, largely by running a single-shot campaign. More than 8,200 voters cast a vote for only one candidate, and observers believe most of those were for Mr. Jorgenson.
Observers say Mr. Hershberger is assured re-election and give Mr. Jorgenson the advantage over the coup the Democrats are attempting.

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