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Bivens makes Senate run official, says he isn’t a ‘placeholder candidate’

Don Bivens (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens said he won’t be deterred from a U.S. Senate run by other possible candidates and likely put to rest whatever fleeting rumors still remain that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords would jump into the race.

Bivens, a Phoenix attorney, formally announced his candidacy on Monday for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jon Kyl. Bivens, the party chairman from 2007 to 2011, said he is committed to the race and isn’t just a “placeholder” for a more well-known candidate such as former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who is also considering a run.

“I am running … without any fear of what others may be doing and I am looking forward to winning this race,” Bivens said during a conference call with reporters. “I am not a placeholder. I’m a candidate for the U.S. Senate.”

Bivens, who had previously said he was unlikely to enter the race until after Giffords made a decision about her political future, said he informed Giffords’ staff of his pending announcement. Giffords is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head she suffered in a Jan. 8 assassination attempt, and her staff has not announced whether she will seek re-election or seek another office.

“If I thought Gabby was going to be running, I probably would not have declared,” Bivens said.

Bivens emphasized his private sector experience as an attorney and said a major component of his job was hashing out agreements between people with emotionally charged, diametrically opposed agendas. That background would be a vast improvement over politicians who “seem more interested in shouting their extreme personal ideology than in doing the hard work required to move our country forward,” he said.

“We have a pinch on the middle class in this economy and too many people in Washington who are more interested in bickering than in getting down to the hard work of moving this country forward,” he said. “We can do better than that. I can do better than that.”

Bivens said his top priority would be reviving the U.S. economy. He suggested tax breaks for small companies that hire new employees, job training programs and government spending on infrastructure such as roads and schools. Earlier this month, President Obama called on Congress to pass a job-creation package that includes those same components.

To shrink the deficit and get federal spending under control, Bivens said he would fight to cut fraud and waste in Medicare, end agricultural subsidies to farms for not growing crops and end “tax giveaways” to oil companies and the wealthy. He opposed higher taxes for the poor and middle class, but said he wanted end tax cuts for the richest Americans that were signed by former President George W. Bush.

While Arizona is a predominantly Republican state, Bivens said the Senate race was up for grabs because it’s for an open seat.

“It’s a winnable race. People in Arizona are tired of the political gridlock that we’ve got ourselves into in Washington,” he said. “I think the open seat is a clear and open advantage. There are only six … open seats for the United States Senate in 2012.”

Bivens said he is a proud Democrat who would stand by his ideals in Washington. But Democrats don’t have a “lock on all the good ideas,” and Bivens said he would be willing to reach across the aisle, despite his partisan past as Arizona Democratic Party chairman.

But U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, the Republican frontrunner for the seat, immediately took aim at Bivens as a “liberal lawyer and former party chairman.” Flake sent out a fundraising email shortly after Bivens’ announcement, attacking him as a supporter of the “liberal agenda of President Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid.”

“Arizonans and Americans simply cannot afford a big spending liberal to win. With the entry of a Democrat into the race, our campaign is entering a new phase,” the email read.

Bivens is the first Democrat to officially announce his candidacy for Kyl’s seat, but he isn’t the only pondering a run. Tucson defense contractor David Crowe opened an exploratory committee in June, and Carmona has been encouraged to run by aides to Giffords.

The field is a bit more settled on the Republican side, where Flake faces Mesa businessman and philanthropist Wil Cardon. Flake, who entered in January shortly after Kyl announced he wouldn’t seek a fourth Senate term, has a sizeable fundraising advantage and reported about $2 million on hand at the end of June.

Republicans Bryan Hackbarth and Douglas McKee, along with Green Party candidate Richard Grayson, have also filed with the Federal Election Commission as candidates.

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