The Arizona Republican Party would have you think there’s nothing wrong in Legislative District 28.
In an email blast sent on June 4, state GOP officials touted a slate of candidates — Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas — as “three strong conservative women” who would sweep the three seats available in the district.
Even the candidates themselves know nothing could be further from the truth.
Republicans are already worried that a wave of Democratic enthusiasm in a post-presidential election could sweep Democrats into office. And Brophy McGee was already expected to face a difficult race against Christine Marsh, a Democrat who was the state’s 2016 “Teacher of the Year.”
Her path to re-election is made trickier by the emergence of Mark Syms as an independent candidate. The husband of Rep. Maria Syms, Mark is viewed by many to be running as political payback.
Some Republicans believe Petsas is more likely to take out Maria Syms than Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler.
And some Republicans worry Mark Syms’ appearance on the ballot could split valuable votes for Brophy McGee and throw the race to Marsh.
Republicans hold a strong voter registration advantage in LD28, but the district has a moderate streak. For more than a decade, its two representatives have hailed from opposite political parties. That could make it difficult for both Maria Syms and Petsas to get elected to the House, especially as Petsas bills herself as a moderate while Syms has struck a much more conservative tone.
Even before the GOP kerfuffle, Democrats were already ramping up their efforts in LD28. For the first time in years, they’re abandoning their “single-shot” strategy in the House.
Instead of running two candidates for both possible House seats, a single candidate — a single-shot — in a district where the conditions are right can result in one win where two candidates might have produced two losses. The goal for a single-shot candidate is to get core supporters to cast only one vote in the race and persuade others to split their votes between the candidate and an opponent. That maximizes the candidate’s own numbers and dilutes the opponents’ numbers.
Butler, a Paradise Valley Democrat, ran single-shot as a Democrat in 2016. This fall, she’ll be joined on the ballot by Aaron Lieberman, who’s touting his born-and-raised ties to LD28 and his education background. Butler said she’s excited about the possibility of Democrats taking another House seat, which she said could “really change our state.”
“We could have a lot more opportunities at the Legislature to really advance the causes that we believe in,” she said. “I think a lot of people in my district are very excited to start knocking on doors and talk about how transformative having another candidate can be for LD28.”
Former LD28 Rep. Eric Meyer, who used the single-shot strategy to win in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, said the dynamic in his old district has changed.
“Our district has slowly gone from strongly leaning Republican to just barely leaning Republican now,” he said. “All of this will help our candidate.”
Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, has declined to address the intraparty schism in LD28, and has publicly insisted that all is well. He recently told the Arizona Capitol Times that he “absolutely” thinks the three Republican candidates can go three for three in the district.
“We intend to win all three seats and we’ll do whatever it takes in the Senate to ensure that Kate Brophy McGee is re-elected,” Lines said on June 4.
That may be possible if the candidates worked together and supported one another, Petsas said. But that would mean that Maria Syms would have to throw her support behind her fellow Republican candidates in LD28, including Brophy McGee, and not her husband running as an independent.
Maria Syms initially demurred when asked if she would endorse her husband, and claimed that any issues between her, Brophy McGee and Petsas are all in the past. Maria Syms noted that she signed Petsas’ nominating petition to qualify for the ballot.
“I am glad we can put all this third party gossip behind us. I look forward to a robust general election campaign,” she wrote in an email.
Petsas said it’s telling that Maria Syms would not say whether she would support her fellow Republican candidates because it indicates that they haven’t gotten past whatever issues existed. And Petsas hasn’t held back in blasting Maria Syms for throwing her support behind her husband, Mark.
Their actions are not in line with Republican values, Petsas said.
“Maria Syms’ husband has filed for the Senate to run against Kate Brophy McGee and Maria Syms is a Republican? I don’t think so,” she said. “People who are experienced and people who are wise realize this is not the time to play games.”
Maria Syms later confirmed she can’t support the all-Republican slate, given that her husband is in the race and running as an independent.
“It’s silly to expect me to endorse someone over my husband,” she wrote in a text message on June 5.
Brophy McGee said she’s unclear about Mark Syms’ motivations for running against her. And Mark Syms has yet to speak for himself on the matter.
He was briefly approached by the Capitol Times when he filed his nominating petitions to run for the LD28 Senate seat on May 30, but his wife cut off the interview after one question. He’s also declined multiple requests for comment.
Brophy McGee noted that she’s won every race she’s run in LD28, going back to her school board days, and that she’s confident she’ll prevail again, even with an independent and a Democrat running against her in the general.
“It’s not something I had anticipated. I would not be human if I did not say I was disappointed. But I’m running, and I plan to win,” Brophy McGee said. “I do not understand. But anyone is free to run in any race, and this is certainly no different.”
Brophy McGee also said it was a “complete shock” to her that the Arizona Republican Party would tout her among a slate of GOP women running in the district. As to how that works with Mark Syms in the mix, Brophy McGee said she’ll leave that up to Maria Syms.
“It is a very, very tough campaign regardless of how this whole situation works out … and that is consuming every bit of time that I have,” she said. “I think focusing on [the intraparty fighting] at the moment when there’s so much that hasn’t been sorted out is a total waste of my time.”t