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Democrats, Republicans find good news in Corporation Commission races

Republican candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission Susan Bitter Smith, Bob Burns and Bob Stump agree to return some Clean Elections funding

Republican Corporation commissioners (from left) Susan Bitter Smith, Bob Burns and Bob Stump (Photos by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Races for the Arizona Corporation Commission typically get less attention than the body’s utility-regulating powers perhaps warrant, but many in the elections business say the details of the outcomes can be highly valuable.

The commission’s relative obscurity means voters frequently pay less attention to individual candidates and vote closer to their partisan sentiment.

That characteristic is strengthened by the fact that the profile of the Corporation Commission race fits well with the state’s public financing system.  Corporation Commission candidates have overwhelmingly come to use it over private campaign funding. Because of that, when it comes to campaign staff size or the amount of advertising candidates can afford, both sides are on roughly equal footing.

For those already looking toward the 2014 statewide election, the 2012 Corporation Commission results are perhaps the best snapshot of the state’s current political temperature and trajectory. And following redistricting, the results can help define the political leanings of the state’s newly drawn districts.

The 2012 Corporation Commission race ended with Republican candidates taking all three seats, including two that were held by Democrats seeking re-election. The results reflect the state’s longstanding GOP advantage and were by no means upsets.

But in the state’s most competitive areas and where independent voters are most dominant, Democrats did better than the partisan registration would have predicted, according to a joint analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.

In the map below, precincts are colored from red to blue to show the Corporation Commission vote breakdown. The state’s most competitive precincts are outlined in white. Click on individual precincts for vote and registration details.

Statewide implications

D.J. Quinlan, interim executive director for the Arizona Democratic Party, said despite the Democrats’ losses, the 2012 Corporation Commission results are encouraging.  He repeated the narrative popular among Democrats that the state is becoming more competitive and Democratic candidates running for statewide office have better odds than ever at capturing those seats.

That line of reasoning is buttressed by the victories in the state’s most competitive areas by Democrat Richard Carmona, who came closer than expected to winning the U.S. Senate race — he lost to Republican Jeff Flake, and Democratic congressional candidates Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber, both of whom were elected. It fuels the hopes of Democrats already putting their names into contention for a run for governor and attorney general.

Lee Miller, however, an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party who represented the Republican Corporation Commission candidates in 2012 during a campaign finance legal dispute, described a more nuanced view of the 2012 results and what it means for 2014.

The Democratic candidates for the Corporation Commission in 2012 chose to dub themselves the “solar team,” and worked hard to paint themselves as the only responsible stewards of the state’s movement toward a future with an expanding renewable energy profile.

Research shows that Arizonans strongly favor a movement toward greater solar energy, and Miller said he thinks the Democrats’ “Solar Team” branding is most likely what helped them win in competitive areas and with independent voters.

But the Republicans still won the overall contests and Democrats, according to Miller, will continue to have a built-in disadvantage, especially while candidates seeking statewide offices choose public financing for their campaigns.

“It’s the great equalizer,” Miller said. “And all other things being equal, the system generates Republican wins.”

That could change, Miller said, but not anytime soon.

The fact that the matching funds component of the state’s public financing was ruled unconstitutional in 2011 further solidifies that maxim, Miller argues, assuring that the campaigns will have clearly defined caps.

Congressional district breakdowns

Six of the state’s nine congressional districts have such a strong partisan leaning that no surprises were expected to emerge. Nor did they.

The state’s two minority-protected districts, Arizona’s 3rd and 7th Congressional districts, voted for the Democratic slate, while the Republican-favoring 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Congressional Districts voted for the Republican candidates.

But the three more closely pitted districts — Arizona’s 1st, 2nd and 9th Congressional districts — have been the subject of conjecture and prognostication since they were drawn into the new maps in 2011.

While all three elected Democrats to the U.S. House in 2012, CD1 and CD2 chose Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama, who won in CD9.

In the Corporation Commission race, CD1 and CD2 again split their choice, giving the most votes to the three incumbent commissioners, Republican Bob Stump and Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman.

Stump was re-elected, but Kennedy and Newman were not.

Voters in CD9 voted for the Democratic slate.

Congressional District Breakdown

CD   Bitter Smith  Burns       Stump      Busching  Kennedy  Newman
1 15.28% 15.49% 16.00% 14.63% 16.93% 17.21%
2 15.25% 15.48% 15.62% 15.30% 16.82% 17.13%
3 11.30% 11.39% 11.79% 18.71% 21.42% 21.06%
4 19.95% 20.31% 21.52% 10.20% 11.75% 11.95%
5 20.36% 20.34% 20.68% 10.78% 11.74% 11.94%
6 18.92% 18.97% 19.54% 12.22% 13.16% 13.25%
7 8.36% 8.22% 9.00% 21.54% 24.36% 23.82%
8 18.86% 19.27% 20.52% 11.73% 12.79% 12.89%
9 15.07% 14.94% 15.54% 15.57% 16.87% 16.99%

Legislative District Breakdown

LD   Bitter Smith  Burns       Stump      Busching  Kennedy  Newman 
1 20.19% 20.65% 22.53% 9.84% 11.13% 11.32%
2 13.00% 13.24% 13.10% 17.27% 19.74% 19.97%
3 8.60% 8.56% 8.50% 21.54% 24.09% 23.91%
4 13.23% 13.40% 14.27% 16.77% 19.47% 18.76%
5 20.81% 21.27% 22.20% 9.27% 10.84% 11.19%
6 16.48% 16.93% 18.15% 13.16% 14.73% 15.04%
7 10.89% 10.90% 11.39% 18.01% 22.13% 22.27%
8 15.57% 15.69% 16.11% 14.55% 16.67% 17.11%
9 13.82% 14.03% 14.31% 16.67% 18.24% 18.55%
10 14.17% 14.28% 14.40% 16.52% 18.03% 18.23%
11 18.22% 18.24% 18.35% 12.85% 14.27% 14.34%
12 21.18% 21.09% 21.52% 9.96% 10.90% 11.13%
13 19.81% 20.17% 21.42% 10.62% 12.09% 11.96%
14 18.74% 19.21% 19.25% 11.56% 13.07% 13.64%
15 19.45% 19.69% 20.48% 11.31% 12.31% 12.42%
16 19.62% 19.58% 19.77% 11.41% 12.54% 12.77%
17 18.26% 18.13% 18.54% 12.83% 13.94% 14.01%
18 16.24% 16.13% 16.70% 14.64% 15.83% 15.85%
19 10.06% 10.00% 11.00% 19.76% 22.75% 22.15%
20 16.87% 17.20% 18.42% 13.24% 14.53% 14.78%
21 14.72% 14.97% 15.91% 15.63% 17.01% 17.08%
22 20.10% 20.41% 21.54% 10.95% 11.83% 11.76%
23 20.26% 20.26% 20.53% 11.44% 12.12% 12.24%
25 20.60% 20.65% 20.98% 10.44% 11.43% 11.65%
26 12.49% 12.36% 12.76% 17.55% 19.27% 19.69%
27 7.39% 7.14% 7.57% 22.89% 25.91% 24.98%
28 17.15% 17.09% 17.81% 14.01% 14.89% 14.96%
29 10.52% 10.58% 11.60% 19.02% 21.93% 21.68%
30 11.51% 11.44% 12.69% 18.08% 20.70% 20.55%

 

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