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GOP chairman’s race wide open after Pullen drops out

The field for Arizona Republican Party chairman is filling up quickly now that Randy Pullen is out of the race.

When Pullen announced he wouldn’t seek a third term after his stunning defeat as a state committeeman, Pinal County GOP Chairman Marty Hermanson was the only declared candidate in the race. But since Pullen’s Nov. 18 announcement, several other candidates have joined the fray.

Former Yavapai County GOP Chairman Malcolm Barrett was the first to confirm his candidacy. Vernon Parker, the former mayor of Paradise Valley who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, announced his candidacy on Nov. 23. Former Board of Regents President John Munger, who chaired the party in the 1980s, said he is considering a run, as well.

Meanwhile, GOP insiders are wondering what role Sen. Jon Kyl, who will be at the top of the party’s ticket in 2012, and Gov. Jan Brewer, the state party’s de facto leader, will play. Members of Arizona’s Republican congressional delegation are rumored to be searching for a candidate, though no names have emerged.

A Kyl spokesman said he didn’t know who, if anyone, the senator would endorse. Brewer spokesman Chuck Coughlin said the governor, who was committed to Pullen, may not endorse anyone.

Parker, the most recent entry in the race, said he believes he can unite Arizona’s GOP establishment, which has long been hostile to Pullen, and the party’s grassroots activists, who were Pullen’s base of support.

“That’s been the problem with the party,” Parker said of the fractured GOP. “I have a vision for where the party should be going, and that is to work with all facets of the party, and more importantly to make sure we maintain our core values.”

Parker’s close ties to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could endear him to the grassroots and tea party activists, to whom the sheriff is an icon. But Parker’s early endorsement of U.S. Sen. John McCain over tea party favorite J.D. Hayworth in the Republican primary might alienate those same activists.

Barrett, who owns Barrett Propane in Prescott, said he decided to run for chairman before Pullen’s ouster. He said he already has the backing of state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, whom he described as a good friend.

“I was planning to run all along. It was coincidental that that happened,” Barrett said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and several Republicans have been lobbying me for quite some time to run.”

For Hermanson, Pullen’s defeat and withdrawal from the race opened the door for a new field of challengers. It will still be a tough race, Hermanson said, but it would have been more difficult if he were trying to unseat an incumbent.

“It would probably be a tougher race with Pullen in it because we had a good election year and he’s going to take a lot of that credit,” Hermanson said. “(Now) it depends who gets in and how many get in.”

Munger said he won’t make a decision until he knows whether Brewer, Kyl and the congressional delegation plan to support a candidate. If they don’t endorse someone, Munger said he would consider another run for his old job.

“I think we need to see what preferences they express. I would have a tendency to honor that,” Munger said. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing, both at my work and my diversions. My wife does as well. I will serve if I feel that duty calls. But I haven’t yet determined whether duty calls.”

Pullen announced that he wouldn’t seek a third term as party chairman on Nov. 18, one day after he lost his re-election for GOP state committeeman in District 11. Under state law and party bylaws, party chairmen must be state committeemen.

Pullen’s loss stunned Arizona’s Republican establishment. Pullen has been a controversial chairman due to his lackluster fundraising and his vocal criticism of McCain, which led McCain to divert money from the Republican National Committee to the Yuma County GOP instead of the state party.

But supporters also gave Pullen some of the credit for the recent election, in which Republicans ousted two Democratic incumbents in congressional races, swept the slate of statewide offices and gained supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Anti-Pullen forces in the district said they worked hard to recruit enough PCs to unseat him, and those efforts bore fruit at the District 11 organizational meeting. Precinct committeemen elected 135 state committeemen at the District 11 meeting on Nov. 17. Pullen received 156 votes, according to District 11 GOP officials, while three people tied for the 135th state committeeman spot with 158 votes.

Maricopa County GOP Chairman Rob Haney, a Pullen ally who also lost his bid for state committeeman, blamed Kyl and McCain’s allies for his and Pullen’s losses.

“It shouldn’t have been (a surprise). McCain forces are at work,” said Haney, who said he plans to run for another term as county chairman. “We’re about the tea party movement from the grassroots. … The heirarchy did not want to respond to the grassroots.”

Other potential candidates have already put the brakes on rumors that they’ll run. Former state Sen. Robert Blendu said he won’t seek the chairmanship. And Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said supporters have urged him to run, but called it a “low-probability event.”

“I’m not looking for a job,” said Hallman, who added that Kyl’s preference will probably be a deciding factor in who gets the chairmanship.

Barrett, Hermanson and Parker all said they have reached out to the state’s top elected officeholders, though some question whether GOP leaders like Brewer and Kyl will get involved.

“I don’t think they are at this point,” said Parker, who added that he plans to roll out a slate of endorsements the week after Thanksgiving.

Hermanson and Parker were both optimistic that they would get the endorsement of Arpaio, a Pullen ally who was expected to back the chairman. Arpaio endorsed Parker in his congressional race, and Parker heads up a committee called Defend Sheriff Joe, which recently ran television ads castigating the federal government for an investigation of Arpaio.

“If I decided to do it, yeah, the sheriff would definitely support me,” Parker said.

Hermanson said he is reaching out to Arpaio through Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, an Arpaio ally who is endorsing Hermanson in the chairman’s race.

Hermanson said he and Arpaio spoke before Pullen announced he would not seek a third term. In that conversation, Arpaio expressed support for Pullen, “but he did say that he likes a lot of things I want to do and likes my vision of the party, and if Randy doesn’t run he would definitely consider endorsing me,” Hermanson said.

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