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Rios plans comeback in 2 years

Sen. Rebecca Rios

Sen. Rebecca Rios

Sen. Rebecca Rios lost her reelection bid this month, but it’s not the end of politics for the scion of one of Arizona’s most well-known political dynasties.

“I’m too young,” Rios, a Democrat from Apache Junction, said a week after Republican challenger Steve Smith upended the political establishment in Pinal County by defeating Rios in the Nov. 2 general election.

Rios, 43, has her sights on another political run two years from now, and she’s hoping that the redistricting in 2012 will be advantageous to her.

“The reality is the district that I ran under last week will not exist two years from now,” she said of the process to redraw legislative and congressional districts based on 2010 Census data. “I very much intend to look at what are the new lines in that district and assess. And who knows? Maybe it’s a district that cuts out the new and keeps the traditional and we continue the dynasty.”

The Rios family has represented the county for nearly three decades.

Rios served in the state House from 1995 until 2001 and was first elected to the state Senate in 2005. She served for several years alongside her father, Pete Rios, who was a lawmaker for 24 years until he left the Legislature in 2008 to successfully run for a seat on the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Rios’ fall in politics perhaps best represents the impact of explosive growth in Arizona.

Pinal County, where the bulk of Legislative District 23 voters come from, is located just outside of the Phoenix metro area. Rapid growth in urban Phoenix spilled over into Pinal County, bringing in new voters who may not necessarily be acquainted with the Rios family.

“Unfortunately, it’s the changing face of Arizona. We’re growing and we’re no longer those sleepy little mining and ranching communities,” Rios said.

Democrats hold a 5-point voter-registration advantage over Republicans in District 23. Just six years ago, there was a 17-point gap between the parties.

The shift was due mostly to the rise in independent voters, whose ranks have swelled by 32,000 since 2004.

The population of District 23 is probably big enough for it to split into two, Rios said. Only two other legislative districts have more voters.

Rios said a congressional run is also on the table. Again, that would depend on where the congressional lines are drawn.

In addition to the influx of new voters, an energized GOP base and the tide of anti-establishment sentiment contributed to Smith’s victory over the more known Rios.
Rios lost by about 4,200 votes.

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