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The Hottest Races: Future of AZ’s political parties at stake in key legislative primaries

MAPArizona’s primary election will decide the fate of the vast majority of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts, most of which are drawn to overwhelmingly favor one party over the other. Candidates have less than two weeks to collect the necessary signatures to get their names on the ballot, which will be mailed to voters in 11 weeks.

The future of both parties is at stake. Republicans continue to battle over whether the GOP can embrace more moderate candidates. Democrats hope to find candidates who can increase their representation at the Capitol and make the party more effective and influential in state politics.

Voters will have a wide variety of primary election candidates to choose from in some of the state’s hottest primary election match-ups.

Here is a look at the year’s hottest primary races:

LD13 Senate — Yuma and West Valley

Incumbent Sen. Don Shooter of Yuma is well-liked for his “keep it loose” attitude at the Capitol, a mentality that has served him well as the chair of the Appropriations Committee, which for the last two sessions has gotten the first crack at budgets proposed in the Legislature. But his outspokenness and inability to stay out of the headlines — and out of trouble with the police — has GOP challenger Toby Farmer sensing blood in the water.

Farmer, CEO of a technology company based in Buckeye, initially filed to run for a House seat in Legislative District 13, but changed to the Senate after news broke last summer of an incident in which Shooter barged past security at a Yuma charter school and confronted a teacher in the middle of her class. The episode resulted in three misdemeanor charges against Shooter, all of which were dismissed in a settlement.

Shooter has since avoided the long arm of the law, but has made headlines for other reasons. The senator was blasted for comments made in January about legislative pay being too low. Then in February, Shooter was chastised for requesting multiple reimbursements of thousands of miles he claimed to travel to and from Yuma on legislative business. Shooter’s hiccups have been a boon for Farmer’s campaign for the Arizona Legislature, and the young Buckeye businessman has already garnered the endorsements of former House Speaker Kirk Adams and conservative activist Shane Wikfors.

LD21 Senate — Peoria and northwest Valley

Sen. Rick Murphy of Peoria spent last summer under the microscope while being investigated by the Peoria Police Department for two separate claims of sexual abuse made against the lawmaker by children in his home. No charges were ever filed — police said there wasn’t enough evidence to support the claims — but the investigation, and ensuing legal battle with Child Protective Services over whether Murphy can keep custody of his children, has left the Peoria Republican vulnerable.

That’s precisely why Rep. Debbie Lesko of Peoria said it’s appropriate for her to challenge her fellow District 21 Republican, even though Murphy isn’t termed out of the Senate until 2018. Lesko announced her campaign for the Senate in November. She said she worried Murphy would be vulnerable to a Democrat looking to seize on his legal woes and cost the GOP a seat in the Senate, where the Republican-Democrat split isn’t as pronounced as in the House.

“I cannot ignore the growing concern voiced by people in our district that Rick’s personal struggles may not only distract him from his job, but may be used by others against him in an election campaign,” Lesko said in a statement.

Murphy, who’s still in court fighting with CPS, has continued to rail against the agency as a legislator, and hasn’t given any indication that he’ll back down from Lesko’s challenge despite evidence of strong support for her candidacy.

LD25 Senate — Mesa

Rich Crandall of Mesa is gone, Senate Majority Leader John McComish of Phoenix is retiring, and Sens. Steve Pierce of Prescott and Adam Driggs of Phoenix are running unopposed in the August primary. That leaves Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa as the only pro-Medicaid expansion Senate candidate facing a GOP primary challenger, a race that could be a referendum on the lawmaker’s support of a plan controversial among the state’s Republican base.

Worsley’s race figures to focus heavily on a critique of his yes vote on Medicaid expansion. Ralph Heap, an orthopedic surgeon from Mesa, announced his candidacy in November and immediately attacked Worsley for the vote.

“I think Mr. Worsley campaigned as a conservative, and I just don’t feel like he’s responded that way in his time in the Senate,” Heap said. “I’m particularly disturbed by the Medicaid expansion and the facilitating of Obamacare in Arizona.”

The campaign could be a test of Gov. Jan Brewer’s support for the Republican lawmakers who helped her pass Medicaid expansion. Worsley, who boasts his own personal wealth, could be caught in a race of heavy spending, as Heap is expected to help fund his own candidacy.

LD27 Senate — south Phoenix

With an open race for the seat to be vacated by Democratic Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, District 27 figures to be a referendum on old vs. new at the Legislature, pitting Rep. Catherine Miranda against newcomer Aaron Marquez.

Marquez, a military veteran supported by former Rep. Ruben Gallego — no friend to Miranda during their time serving as seatmates in the House — has so far been impressive as a political neophyte. His resume boasts a military tour in Afghanistan, work with advocacy groups and Americorps in Boston and Washington, D.C., and endorsements from former Attorney General Terry Goddard and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell.

Miranda chose to stay in the race for the Senate after flirting with a run for Congress to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, and has wasted little time in collecting the necessary signatures to cement her place on the ballot. She lags behind Marquez in fundraising, however — Marquez has raised roughly $44,500 to Miranda’s $14,714.

LD1 House — Prescott and north-central Arizona

With House Speaker Andy Tobin leaving the Legislature to run for Congress, three Republican candidates are lining up to replace him.  His seatmate, Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott is also looking to return to the Legislature.

Linda Gray of Glendale served eight years in the House and another eight years in the Senate before term limits forced her to step out in 2012. But after two years away from the Capitol, Gray is attempting to make a comeback. She has received an endorsement from Fann, along with many other Capitol insiders, though she and Fann are not running as a team.

Noel Campbell of Prescott has run for the Legislature twice before, and is hoping the third time is the charm. Campbell placed fourth in a four-way primary in 2006, and failed to win a Republican primary in the district again in 2010, when he was beaten by Fann, despite earning an endorsement from Gov. Jan Brewer.

Political newcomer Sean Englund of Cave Creek is also gathering signatures in an attempt to get his name on the Republican primary ballot.

LD8 House — Casa Grande and eastern Arizona

Republican Reps. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande and T.J. Shope of Coolidge were both supporters of Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan, putting a target on their backs from conservatives in their party.

After they voted to support Medicaid expansion, there was a blanket threat to run primary candidates against the Republicans who voted for expansion, and while the threat fizzled in some districts, Shope and Pratt drew a true Tea Party challenger in Darla Dawald, a national Tea Party organizer who lives in Casa Grande.

The district was formerly conservative Democratic territory, but has been trending more and more Republican in recent years, though the Senate seat is still held by a Democrat.

A successful Tea Party challenge to one of the Republicans would send a strong message to Republicans who supported expansion, but Dawald, who is using public dollars to fund her campaign, starts at a competitive disadvantage to the well-funded Republican duo.

Political newcomer Republican Dennis Bachmann of San Tan Valley got his campaign off to a late start, and is still attempting to gather signatures from voters to put his name on the ballot and $5 contributions to qualify for public funding for his campaign.

LD13 House — Yuma and West Valley

In a reversal of the common theme of a more conservative Republican attempting to take out a more moderate Republican, Litchfield Park City Councilmember Diane Landis is running as the moderate alternative to the more conservative team of Reps. Steve Montenegro and Darin Mitchell, both of Litchfield Park.

Landis has a formidable resume as a former certified public accountant and White House liaison for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and showed her campaign prowess by outraising Mitchell and Montenegro — nearly outraising the two combined — in the first campaign finance reporting period.

And as a single candidate in a “pick two” race, Landis has the added advantage of being able to run a “single shot” campaign.

LD16 House — Apache Junction and East Valley

Around the Capitol, Rep. Doug Coleman of Apache Junction is often cited as one of the most vulnerable Republican members of the Medicaid expansion coalition in the House, and is facing a stiff challenge from former Rep. John Fillmore of Apache Junction in the conservative East Valley district.

Coleman, however, has a long history in the district as the former mayor of Apache Junction, and has a solid base of support within the Mormon community in the east Mesa portion of the district.

And like the rest of the Medicaid expansion Republicans, Coleman will be well-funded through contributions from the business community — while Fillmore is running a publicly funded campaign.

The district’s other representative, Kelly Townsend of Mesa, is not teaming up with Fillmore, despite their similar ideological leanings. First-time candidate Adam Stevens is also collecting signatures to qualify for the Republican primary ballot.

LD20 House — northwest Phoenix, Glendale

In what promises to be one of the hottest GOP primaries of the year, Rep. Paul Boyer of Phoenix is teaming up with first-time candidate and Tea Party activist Anthony Kern of Glendale to take out Boyer’s seatmate, Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix, who has served in the Legislature since 2008.

Seel is one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, and has made a name for himself as a birther who appeared on the “Daily Show.” He is one of the fiercest critics of the state Medicaid system, which he often claims is at the center of a scam from Hezbollah, the extremist Shiite Muslim group that has close links with Iran.

And worst of all for Seel, Boyer and Kern are using conservative campaign guru Constantin Querard, who has run all of Seel’s previous legislative campaigns. Seel said that having his former consultant actively working against him will hurt him in the primary, but warned that the voters know him as a stalwart conservative, and he has faced hard-hitting challengers and well-funded campaigns before and prevailed.

Three other candidates are also gathering signatures to qualify for the Republican primary ballot, including Bill Adams, who ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 2010, and first-time candidates Thurane Karl Aung Khin and Aaron Flannery.

But having a six-way race for two seats helps the incumbents, and offers Seel a better chance of returning to the Legislature.

LD23 House — Scottsdale and Fountain Hills

In one of the most crowded and diverse GOP primaries in the state, five candidates are vying to replace Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, while his seatmate, Rep. Michelle Ugenti of Scottsdale, is hoping not to get pushed out by the ambitious new blood.

Chuck Schmidt of Scottsdale is the chief operating officer of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, and is running as an advocate for education. During the first fundraising reporting period, Schmidt far outraised the six other candidates by picking up more than $50,000 in campaign contributions.

Longtime conservative radio talk show host Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale is attempting to cross the line from talking about politics on the air to creating policies in the House.

Scottsdale City Councilman Bob Littlefield has hit his term limits in the council, and is attempting to move up into state government.

Republican Party activist John Strasser is also gathering signatures to get his name on the ballot, while first-time candidate Effie Carlson is the only one of the six who has filed her signatures for the ballot yet.

LD24 House — central Phoenix

House Democratic leader Chad Campbell has hit his term limits in the House, leaving an opening in the central Phoenix Democratic stronghold.

The opening has two candidates ready to duke it out to replace the top Democrat in the House. Former one-term lawmaker Ken Clark is seeking a return to the Capitol after leaving in 2004, and faces a competitor in retired firefighter Rich Bauer.

Both have already locked up a host of endorsements from the political community, and were near evenly matched in the first fundraising period.

The district’s other representative, Rep. Lela Alston, is seeking re-election and is widely seen as a safe bet to return.

LD28 House — Phoenix and Paradise Valley

Legislative District 28 is a moderate, Republican-leaning district, and one of the state’s two split House districts represented by both a Republican and a Democrat.

The district’s Republican representative, Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, was one of the nine Republicans in the House to support Medicaid expansion, and has drawn a crowded primary of four candidates who want to join her in running against the district’s Democratic representative, Eric Meyer.

Only Shawnna Bolick of Phoenix, who lost in the 2010 primary, has so far criticized Brophy McGee for her support of Medicaid expansion and indicated she is running against the incumbent.

Brophy McGee won’t be easy to beat, however, as she had more than $100,000 in her campaign coffers during the first campaign finance reporting period.

Bolick has picked up several high-profile endorsements, including former Congressman Ben Quayle, former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, and raised more than $40,000 in the first campaign finance reporting period.

Former Paradise Valley councilmember Mary Hamway is also running for the office, and while she and Brophy McGee are mostly on the same page ideologically, they aren’t officially running as a team.

John Wilenchik, an attorney at Phoenix firm Wilenchik & Bartness, is another moderate Republican running in the district and said the governor’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage has some economic merit.

And political newcomer Brandon Slayton describes himself on his campaign Facebook page as “an openly gay Republican moderate.” He didn’t start his campaign until this month, leaving him a short window to collect the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot.

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