It’s election season once more, and this cycle starts with a few curveballs.
May 30 marked the deadline for candidates to submit petitions to run for legislative, statewide and congressional offices. Unlike in previous election cycles, few legislative races are uncontested.
In addition to incumbents, a few familiar names popped up, including a surprise primary challenger for Gov. Doug Ducey, a bid by recently-expelled former Yuma Rep. Don Shooter to reclaim his old state Senate seat, and former House Speaker David Gowan, who was accused of misuse of state vehicles, likewise is running for the state Senate.
So, pop some popcorn and settle in for an entertaining election season.
The race to fill the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Jeff Flake, who is retiring, is expected to be the biggest contest in Arizona this year.
Republicans face a contentious primary with U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio duking it out in the primary.
Likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema also qualified for the ballot. She faces first-time political candidate Deedra Abboud, who is also a lawyer, in the primary.
State Sen. Steve Farley and educator David Garcia, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2014, will face off for the chance to take on Gov. Doug Ducey. Also on the Democratic primary ballot is Kelly Fryer, a first-time political candidate who is CEO of the YWCA of Southern Arizona.
But Ducey won’t get to coast to the general election. A last-minute addition to the governor’s race, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett gathered 7,828 signatures in about six weeks to qualify for the Republican primary.
Ducey’s campaign seems unfazed by the competition. “It would not be an election cycle without Ken Bennett on the ballot,” said J.P. Twist, Ducey’s campaign manager.
Ducey’s campaign war chest sits at $3 million on hand, which means Bennett, who is hoping to use Clean Elections funding, can’t compete financially. But Bennett, who came in fourth in the six-way Republican primary contest for governor in 2014, is undaunted by Ducey’s formidable cash advantage and is preparing to hit the governor on his record.
“Four years ago, he ran on a bunch of promises,” Bennett said. “Many of those promises turned out to be not true. We’re in this race because the truth matters.”
In the secretary of state’s race, Republican Steve Gaynor takes on incumbent Michele Reagan. A wealthy businessman, Gaynor has vowed to self-fund his campaign to take out Reagan, who some Republicans fear may be vulnerable in the general election. Democrats in the race are Sen. Katie Hobbs, Leslie Pico and Mark Robert Gordon.
Four Republicans and four Democrats are hoping to get their party’s nod for the congressional seat that McSally is vacating. This could be the most competitive congressional race, not only because of the open seat but because history shows the 2nd Congressional District is a true tossup district.
A similar situation exists in CD9, the seat occupied by Sinema, with three Republicans and two Democrats vying for the nominations. But that district leans slightly more Democrat in performance than southern Arizona’s CD2.
And in CD8, Republican Debbie Lesko, who just won a special election to replace Trent Franks, will have to defend her seat in the primary. Former Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor to end felony bid-rigging charges years ago, wants to be the GOP nominee in the heavy Republican district. Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, Lesko’s opponent in the special election, is also gunning for a second chance at the seat.
LD6: Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, who is termed out after serving eight years in the House, is looking to unseat her seatmate, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. The Republican winner will face off against Democrat Wade Carlisle in the general election.
LD23: Tim Jeffries, who was fired as head of the Department of Economic Security, is running in a four-way GOP primary that includes Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who is termed out of the House. Jeffries was ousted amid reports that he fired hundreds of state employees and used a state plane to travel to Nogales to drink with employees who gave up their job protections.
LD27: As Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, steps down to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, her nephew, Cipriano Miranda, aims to keep the family name in the Legislature and has filed to run for the open seat, but so has House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who hopes to make the switch to the Senate.
LD28: Mark Syms, husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, is challenging Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, in a move that could jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the critical swing district. Running as an independent, Mark Syms’ candidacy has some Republicans worried that his campaign will throw the race to Democratic candidate Christine Marsh. Mark Syms had jumped into the legislative race after Republican Kathy Petsas, who is viewed as holding more centrist views, filed to compete for a House seat.
LD30: House Reps. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, and Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, are facing off for the seat.
Teachers: A handful of teachers inspired by the “Red for Ed” movement are running for legislative seats. Middle school teacher Jennifer Samuels qualified to run for the House in LD15 and is one of three Democrats in the race. Bonnie Hickman, a teacher in the Gilbert Unified School District, is competing in a crowded field of Republicans gunning to take out Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, in LD16. Several other teachers are seeking legislative seats.
LD2: Former state Rep. John Christopher Ackerley, a one-term Republican who held a seat in the predominantly Democratic district, is attempting a comeback. Ackerley pulled off an upset victory in 2014 but lost to Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, two years later. Ackerley will face off against Anthony Sizer, an engineer also seeking the Republican nomination. Hernandez and Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, have also filed to run.
LD5: Incumbents Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, and Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, face two primary challengers – businessman Leo Biasiucci, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 2012, and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, first vice chair of the La Paz County Republican Committee. The two GOP winners will face off against Democrat Mary McCord Robinson in November. The race, however, recently turned ugly after Biasiucci and his allies accused Mosley of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun store. Mosley denied the allegation and instead accused the gun store owner of having thrown away his petitions. Though Cobb said she isn’t running on a slate with any of the three other candidates, she said she urged Biasiucci to get into the race and run against Mosley.
LD16: Five Republican candidates are looking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, or to unseat Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a vocal opponent of the “Red for Ed” movement. Townsend consulted with lawyers about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the walkout.
LD24: Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Ken Clark, of Phoenix, faces a seven-way primary for the district’s two House seats. Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, is termed out and is running for the Senate.
LD28: Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy as they seek to capitalize on an expected “blue wave” in November. In addition to Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, Aaron Lieberman, also of Paradise Valley, has filed to run for the Democratic nomination. This is the first time since 2002 that Democrats have fielded two House candidates in the district. Two Republicans are also gunning for the House seats: Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas, the district’s GOP chairwoman and a longtime Republican activist. While Petsas is ostensibly running against Butler and Republicans are hoping to get three for three in November, Petsas could unseat Syms instead. Syms has struck a decidedly conservative tone in her famously moderate district, while Petsas boasts more moderate credentials.
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.