During her 27 years in public office, Gov. Jan Brewer has never lost an election. But if she runs for a full term in 2010, some are predicting that streak could come to an inglorious end in the Republican primary.
More than a dozen people are rumored to be in the running for the Republican nomination, and for the first time since she ascended to the Ninth Floor in January, Brewer has said she may be among them. She said she won’t make a final decision until the budget crisis is sorted out, but is hinting that she wants to keep the job she inherited from Janet Napolitano in January.
“At this point in time, I wish I could be more definitive about what it is I’m going to do. But certainly as the sitting governor, as the incumbent, I would be leaning in that direction,” Brewer told the Arizona Capitol Times.
The Republican electorate, however, may be leaning the other way.
Brewer has spent the past six months pushing a temporary sales tax increase to help bridge Arizona’s massive budget gap, and the reception she has received from fellow conservatives often has ranged from lukewarm to outwardly hostile.
As September opened, the state was still without a full budget because lawmakers would not approve one that included a special election on her tax hike proposal.
In a recent poll commissioned by Wil Cardon of The Cardon Group, a Valley-based real estate company, and conducted by the Summit Group, only 18 percent of respondents said they would vote to give Brewer a full term if the election were today, though nearly 50 percent said they supported her tax plan. Forty-six percent said they would vote for another candidate and 36 percent were undecided. Other polls have showed a wide range of responses.
Brewer said she won’t be deterred by any potential primary challengers, a list that seems to grow by the day. Among the myriad names being floated are Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Dean Martin, Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, former Arizona Republican Party Chairman John Munger, businessman Robert Graham and U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake. Martin and Munger, among others, have indicated a willingness to challenge Brewer in the primaries, while Graham, a political unknown, has filed his candidacy and is already campaigning.
“Incumbents’ track records of getting re-elected are usually quite good,” said lobbyist and attorney Chris Herstam, a former lawmaker who served as chief of staff for Gov. Fife Symington. “Unfortunately, Republicans are very good at eating their own, so I would expect a Republican primary. But I think Governor Brewer would be the strong favorite.”
Despite the opposition to Brewer’s budget plan, Herstam is not alone in his belief that the advantages of incumbency will be enough to give Brewer the nomination.
Republican consultant Constantin Querard said Brewer will run and that most potential candidates will shy away from challenging an incumbent from their own party. He also doubts that Bennett or Martin, whom he views as the strongest challengers, will run. Both have said they plan on running to retain their current jobs, though Martin said he is considering a run at the Ninth Floor as well.
“I’m not sure that they would leave (their current positions) for a … matchup against an incumbent governor. That would seem to be a very high-risk move, and most politicians tend to be relatively risk- averse,” Querard said of Bennett and Martin.
Munger, Querard said, could pose a threat to Brewer in the primary, though he feels the Tucsonan would have an uphill climb running from southern Arizona. Len Munsil, the Republican nominee in 2006, could make it an interesting race, he said, as could Flake or U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, should either of them decide to run.
But Brewer is still the favorite, Querard said, and if she has more than one challenger, she likely would benefit from a crowded field of candidates.
“I would think that as the incumbent, she’s still the candidate to beat. She certainly would start off as the favorite. I’m not sure who would even have a claim at that mantle, other than her,” Querard said.
“The more of them running, the fewer votes she needs to win. If it’s a two-person race, she needs 50 percent plus one to win. Three, four, five, six candidates and she could win this thing with 35 percent.”
Former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Sam Coppersmith also predicted that Brewer could benefit from a fractured field. Because she has angered the most conservative wing of her party, he said, the primary could be “a contest for who can feed the base beast the most red meat.”
“If she runs, I think she wins because of the power of incumbency,”
Coppersmith said, adding that there could be so many challengers “that it’s hard to see how they don’t start stepping on each other.”
Lobbyist Chuck Coughlin, a longtime adviser to Brewer, said he believes she wants to run for a full term and has no doubt that she would prevail against any Republican challengers.
“I think there’s a lot of pretenders out there, a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t have a grasp on how to manage the state,” said Coughlin, who ran Brewer’s campaigns for secretary of state and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
But there are doubters as well. Sen. Ron Gould, one of the few Senate Republicans who has never agreed to vote for the governor’s ballot referral on the proposed sales tax increase, said he thinks Brewer will be challenged in the primary and gauges her chance of winning at “less than 50-50.”
Gould said he expects Martin, who has publicly opposed Brewer’s tax plan, to run against her, and Gould believes he can win.
Republican hostility to Brewer started with the proposed sales tax increase, Gould said, but it certainly hasn’t ended there. He said many lawmakers are still upset over an internal memo from Building a Better Arizona, a Coughlin-led group of lobbyists and business interests, outlining a publicity campaign aimed at lawmakers who opposed Brewer’s budget plan.
Members of the group said they had no plans to attack sitting lawmakers, and that the campaign described in the memo was simply a proposal, but many Republicans were taken aback when the memo became public.
Gould said conservative support for Brewer also is dwindling due to recent statements Coughlin made about Republicans who are opposing her budget plan.
Coughlin told the Arizona Capitol Times that opposition lawmakers such as Gould and Sen. Pam Gorman are more libertarian than Republican, saying Gould “hates government and wants to just cut it” and that Gorman is “more interested in herself and the mirror-mirror-on-the- wall routine than doing what’s right for the people of Arizona. I think people like that need to be dealt with.”
Those comments will not endear Brewer to her fellow Republicans, Gould said, especially considering that most of those who are supporting her budget plan are doing so grudgingly and in a compromise to abolish a property tax.
“This guy is the governor’s de facto spokesman … and she needs to rein that boy in because he’s out there attacking people and it just reflects badly on the governor,” Gould said of Coughlin. “If your name was on that list, you remember that the governor’s people were willing to attack you in your own district.”
Of course, the most important factor will likely be Brewer herself. If she decides to call it quits in 2010, the Republican primary will be wide open. But if she runs, prospective candidates will have to decide whether they are willing to wage an intraparty battle against an incumbent governor, whether they are willing to risk the positions they now hold, and whether they think they can raise enough money to run a credible campaign.
“I’ve got important work on my desk and I’ve got to get this budget resolved,” Brewer said. “Once we can put that to bed, then I can make a definite decision on what I’m going to do.”