The Arizona governor’s race is taking shape with vastly different dynamics for the two major parties.
Democrats lost the governor’s office a year ago but their all-but-certain 2010 nominee is on an easy glide path toward the general election campaign, with Attorney General Terry Goddard facing no primary opposition so far.
Republicans now hold the governor’s office, thanks to Janet Napolitano’s resignation to go to Washington. But they could have to endure a political food fight to keep it.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is part of what is shaping up to be a multi-candidate primary field seeking the GOP nomination. The latest to enter the race is State Treasurer Dean Martin.
It’s a situation largely attributed to many Republicans’ antipathy toward Brewer’s proposal for a temporary sales tax increase to help balance the state budget. Also factoring into the rush of Republican candidates is her status as an non-elected governor. Brewer was elevated from secretary of state when Napolitano resigned.
The race is considered up for grabs, both in the Aug. 24 primary and the Nov. 2 general, because of political challenges posed by the recession-hammered state’s dire fiscal straits.
While Brewer’s incumbency can be a help if voters perceive her as a “steady hand at the wheel,” Northern Arizona University political science professor Fred Solop said the budget “can really backfire for her if she’s perceived as an ineffective actor.”
Already, thousands of state employees have been laid off, safety net services are being cut and parks and motor vehicle division offices are being closed across the state.
With nearly three in 10 Arizona voters registered as independents, Arizona is increasingly regarded as a competitive state winnable by either party. Napolitano won the last two governor’s races, preceded by three straight wins by Republicans Fife Symington and Jane Hull.
Martin entered the race Wednesday, joining Brewer and Tucson lawyer John Munger, a former state party chairman, as declared candidates.
Republicans exploring candidacies include Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker and Owen “Buz” Mills, a Yavapai County shooting range owner. Mills’ status as a political unknown changed when he lent $2 million to his exploratory committee.
Mills is a conservative who now must introduce himself and his ideas to both political activists and the wider electorate, said Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott. “He does have the money to be able to do that.”
Richard Herrera, an Arizona State University associate professor of political science, said the Republican hopefuls will be jockeying to be seen as the strongest conservative. But Brewer “will be labeled” by her proposed tax increase, Herrera said. “She’s stuck with that proposal.”
The other Republicans “are going to have to try to distinguish themselves from one another to get some votes,” said Barbara Norrander, a University of Arizona political science professor. “And if you have a five-way race, you could be splitting the totals so whoever gets 25 percent could win.”
With Martin’s entry, “the real campaign pressure and heat is going to happen now,” said Rep. Carl Seel, a Martin supporter.
However, the GOP race probably won’t boil down to a one-on-one contest among two top contenders as long as there’s at least five serious candidates, Seel said.
The current field could narrow as early as this week. Parker said Monday he was considering whether to run instead for the 3rd Congressional District seat now held by U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, a Republican who announced Thursday he won’t run for re-election.
Meanwhile, Goddard can spend coming months building up his campaign organization while trying to use his current office to project an image of statesmanship, Norrander and Solop said.
Said Norrander: “He probably won’t get a lot of attention during the primaries, but primaries in Arizona are pretty late anyway.”
Goddard did not return a call for comment, but other Democrats welcomed how the race is shaping up.
The GOP primary will be “a year of Republicans fighting with themselves,” said Rep. David Lujan, a Phoenix Democrat and a candidate for attorney general.