Crandall holds off Fillmore in East Valley race

Luige del Puerto//August 29, 2012

Crandall holds off Fillmore in East Valley race

Luige del Puerto//August 29, 2012

Sen. Rich Crandall (left) and Rep. John Fillmore (file photos, Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. John Fillmore, an Apache Junction legislator with Tea Party leanings, has conceded defeat in his race against Sen. Rich Crandall, a low-key but influential member of the “mainstream” wing of the GOP caucus.

The tally has yet to be completed, but Fillmore said he doesn’t think he can catch up.

Crandall, R-Mesa, is slightly ahead with 52 percent of votes, according to the unofficial tally from the Secretary of State.

Fillmore has 48 percent of roughly 13,000 ballots that were counted as of late Tuesday night.

“I’m sorry I lost. I gave it my best shot. I’m proud of what we did,” Fillmore told the Arizona Capitol Times.

But Fillmore said he can hold his head high since his opponents outraised and outspent him.

More than $180,000 had been spent on the primary race, the bulk of which went to help Crandall.

Reached on the phone, Crandall wasn’t ready to declare victory yet, noting not all the votes have been counted.

“(I’m) cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Fillmore and Crandall are vying for their party’s nomination to the Senate in new Legislative District 16, which includes part of Mesa, the San Tan Valley and all of Apache Junction and Gold Canyon.

As predicted, the race between Fillmore and Crandall turned out to be among the most vigorously fought primary races this year.

The race’s outcome is significant not only because it will help shape the Republican agenda next year, but it could potentially affect the race for the Senate presidency, assuming Sen. Steve Pierce’s leadership is challenged after the November elections.

Many assumed that Crandall will back Pierce as leader while Fillmore is expected to support either Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs or former senator Russell Pearce, if the latter wins his primary race against businessman Bob Worsley.

The race wasn’t supposed to take place. Crandall declared he wouldn’t seek reelection to the Senate after his previous home was drawn into the same district as Pearce’s.

He didn’t want to run against his party-mate in what many said would have been a fierce, potentially nasty, battle for the primary nomination.

But Crandall later decided to move into LD16, a move that instead set up a primary showdown against Fillmore.

Like other races, the primary contest in LD16 was notable for spending by independent groups.

One outside group, the Republican Victory Fund, has taken the lead in attacking Fillmore.

The committee, which called Crandall a conservative, labeled Fillmore as a “liberal” and dug up his bills to say he is soft “soft on drugs” and he is “actively trying to legalize marijuana.”

Fillmore said the attack was “mean spirited,” adding it was blatantly “twisting the truth.”

But the spending by the Republican Victory Fund, whose funds were raised by Senate President Steve Pierce, also threatened to become the focal point of the primary race.

Several Republicans were unhappy that the group, whose chief aim is to extend the GOP’s dominance in the Legislature, has decided to wade into an intraparty contest.

Pierce had maintained that he had no control over the group’s spending.