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A Fighting Chance: Possible 15-15 split in Senate hinges on 4 key races

After taking advantage of an anti-incumbent mood that swept the nation and secured supermajority control of both chambers of the Arizona Legislature two years ago, Republicans are now poised to lose their veto-proof hold at the state Capitol.

Not only that. There’s also a chance Democrats could win enough seats to split the Senate down the middle — 15-15 — a scenario that has occurred only once in the state’s 100-year history.

That would effectively give Democrats powers akin to a gubernatorial veto. They may not be able to advance their agenda, but voting as a bloc, they could stop Republican proposals dead in their tracks.

“If everything breaks well, it could break to 15-15, but as far as the end of the supermajority, we’re operating under the assumption that that’s probably going to happen,” said Frank Camacho, Arizona Democratic Party spokesman.

The possibility of a split Senate exists in large part because of the recently concluded redistricting process.

The legislative boundaries approved by the U.S. Department of Justice created 14 safe Republican districts, nine safe Democratic districts and seven that are up for grabs, using the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s competitive standards.

The Arizona Capitol Times’ own analysis shows that in Senate contests, Republicans are safe in 15 districts, Democrats have a good grip on 11 and four could go either way.

This analysis factors voter registration, the IRC’s competitive index, as well as anecdotal information, such as candidates’ name recognition, their political and campaign experience and political analysts’ input.

What’s difficult to gauge this early in the race is how dynamic the campaigns will be.

Ultimately, much depends on the candidates’ energy, intensity, machinery and strengths.

But if all four “toss-up” districts go Democratic, then the minority party will likely be staring at a power-sharing scheme with the Republicans in the Senate next year.

• • •

Many Republicans blame the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission for the near certainty that they will lose their overwhelming dominance at the state Capitol next year, accusing commissioners of having created maps that favor Democrats.

Regardless of the merits of their arguments, what’s undeniable is many incumbent Republicans immediately face re-election complications due to the makeup of the maps.

Some were drawn into Democratic-leaning legislative districts, such as Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson.

Shooter ultimately decided to move into a Republican-leaning district, but in doing so, he also ends up challenging a fellow Republican, Sen. John Nelson of Litchfield Park.

Antenori stayed in his new district and is seeking re-election. But he begins the race with an obvious disadvantage: Democrats hold a slight lead in voter registration in the new district.

It doesn’t get easier for Antenori, the majority whip. He is also squaring off against former Rep. David Bradley in the general election.

Others, like Sen. Lori Klein, faced equally stark choices.

Klein’ s Anthem home ended up in a mostly rural district that runs up to Ash Fork in the north and goes south past New River to Anthem. But the district also includes Senate President Steve Pierce’s Prescott- area home, and rather than challenge the Senate leader, Klein decided to run for the district’s House seat.

Klein is now in a three-way Republican contest with House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden, and Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, and Sen. Al Melvin, R- SaddleBrooke, reached a deal after they were drawn into the same district. Smith is running for the House while Melvin is seeking re- election to the Senate.

There were fewer complications on the Democratic side. Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, was drawn into a heavily Republican district and decided to move to a neighboring Democratic district.

Another interesting side note is that the final list of candidates who qualified for the ballot last month shows five Democratic candidates for the Senate are assured of victory this year since they face no challengers in either the primary or general election.

In contrast, only three Republican candidates are uncontested.

• • •

But even more significant than the complications for Republican candidates that arose from the new legislative maps is that the confluence of forces that made 2010 ripe for a Republican wave no longer exists.

The economy was badly souring two years ago, and there was palpable anger directed at incumbents, including the occupant of the White House. That anger was largely fueled by the Tea Party movement.

But Stan Barnes, a Republican political consultant, lobbyist and former lawmaker, said his party’s gains in 2010 were a “rare event” in state history, “I don’t believe it’s a long-term trend,” he said.

“It’s just a very high bar to continue to jump over. The state of Arizona certainly leans Republican, but the distance between Republican registration and Democratic registration is not great, and the growing independent vote is still yet undefined and up for grabs,” he added.

The voter population in Arizona is split roughly into thirds: 36 percent are Republicans, 30 percent are Democrats and 33 percent are independents and others.

Chris Baker, a Republican political consultant, agreed with Barnes.

“We’re at a high water mark, and the problem with a high water mark is the most likely place to go is a little down,” he said.

Indeed, even if the lines stayed the same, it would still have been tough for Republicans to maintain such historically high numbers, Baker said.

Lawmakers, party officers and political consultants also agree there are at least four Senate races that are up for grabs this year.

And while many say the chance of Democrats sweeping all four races is small, they’re not entirely dismissive of the possibility of a 15-15 split.

In any case, the outcome of these four races will shape next year’s Legislature, and help set its tone and agenda.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said even securing 16 or 17 Senate seats will pose difficulties for the majority. He said there will be little wiggle room to pass contested pieces of legislation under this scenario, given that senators don’t have homogenous political leanings.

Shane Wikfors, the Arizona Republican Party spokesman, thinks his party will maintain its control of the Legislature.

“I think it’s much more challenging for us to hold on to a supermajority, though,” he said.

 

SAFE DISTRICTS

The Arizona Capitol Times breaks down competitive and safe districts for the upcoming elections. The information is based on voter registration, candidate profiles, the Independent Redistricting Commission’s competitive index and political analysts’ input.

Toss-up races

LD6: Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff versus Rep. Chester Crandell, R- Heber. GOP voter registration edge: 8.8. AIRC competitive index: GOP — 53.8%, Democrat — 46.2%

LD10: Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, versus former Rep. David Bradley, D-Tucson. Democratic voter registration edge: 3.5. AIRC competitive index: GOP — 47.8%, Democrat — 52.2%

LD20: Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, versus former Rep. Doug Quelland, independent-Phoenix, versus Michael Powell, D-Phoenix. GOP voter registration edge: 8. AIRC competitive index: GOP — 56.9%, Democrat — 43.1%

LD25: Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, versus Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe. Democratic voter registration edge: 7.2. AIRC competitiveness index: GOP — 43.2%, Democrat — 56.8%

Safe Republican districts: Legislative Districts 1, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 25, 28

Safe Democratic districts: Legislative Districts 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 19, 24, 27, 29, 30

 

NEW DISTRICT BOUNDARIES PRODUCE UNLIKELY SENATE RACES

Four races will likely decide the final partisan split in the state Senate after this year’s elections, and their outcome will shape the agenda and political battles that will be fought during the next session.

Legislative District 6: In northern Arizona, Rep. Tom Chabin, a Democrat from Flagstaff, is running against Rep. Chester Crandell, a Republican from Heber.

Republicans hold less than a 10-point voter-registration advantage in Legislative District 6, but the fact alone that two incumbent representatives are vying for the same seat instantly elevates the race’s profile.

As a lawmaker since 2007 and a former Coconino County supervisor, Chabin may be more well-known in the region, but Crandell could tap into the Republican voter-registration edge.

Legislative District 10: Down south, Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in Legislative District 10, and that’s probably also why Sen. Frank Antenori, who eyed a congressional run, was initially reluctant to seek re-election to the Senate.

Though he’s facing former Rep. David Bradley in the general election, many give Antenori a fighting chance, noting he’s a good campaigner and almost one-third of the district is made up of independent voters.

Legislative District 20: There’s the unusual case of Legislative District 20, where a three-way general election race is brewing among former Republican Rep. Doug Quelland, who is running as an independent, Rep. Kimberly Yee, R- Glendale, and Democrat Michael Powell.

Until he changed his registration to independent, Quelland was a Republican and represented the current LD10 as a member of the majority, and that means he could theoretically pull away votes from Yee, allowing the Democrat in the race, Powell, to squeak through.

Quelland, who was kicked out of office for violating Clean Election laws, lost to Yee and Rep. Jim Weiers in 2010, when he ran for the House. But he received a good number of votes, which showed he still commands a lot of influence in the district.

Legislative District 25: Meanwhile, many agree that Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, faces a steep climb in his re-election bid.

The Mesa Republican, who unseated Russell Pearce during a special election last year, was drawn into a Democratic-leaning district that straddles his hometown and neighboring Tempe.

He faces Rep. Ed Ableser, a Democrat from Tempe.

But Lewis had a good ground game in the special recall election, when he also proved capable of raising a sufficient amount of money to compete. His immediate challenge is to introduce himself to voters who are not from his old district, but he is expected to fight hard for the seat.

Other tight match-ups: Other observers included the race between Sen. John McComish, R- Phoenix, and Janie Hydrick, a Democrat, in Legislative District 18, and in District 8 between former Rep. Barbara McGuire, a Democrat, and Joe Ortiz, a Republican, as two more contests to watch.

“The real outcome of the election will be decided by the quality of the candidates in those districts and could go either way,” Barnes said.

— Luige del Puerto

 

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