Long hyped as the frontrunner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, David Garcia cruised to victory Tuesday, earning the chance to take on Gov. Doug Ducey this fall.
Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University and former Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate, defeated state Sen. Steve Farley and activist Kelly Fryer to win the Democratic nomination.
Garcia ran to the left of Farley in the primary, showing off a side of himself that was not seen in his 2014 campaign for superintendent of public instruction – a race he lost to Diane Douglas by about 16,000 votes.
He was the first Democrat to jump into the governor’s race and consistently led in the polls.
In a rousing victory speech at a Phoenix bar and restaurant, Garcia said the primary election results show Arizonans are turning away from the agenda of Ducey and President Donald Trump in favor of a new vision for the state.
“Arizona made a choice,” he said. “They said we are ready for vision over division. We want hope over fear. We want trust over dishonesty and as of today, the Trump/Arpaio/Ducey playbook. … That playbook is coming to an end.”
Even with strong Democratic tailwinds, Garcia now faces a tough battle to unseat the incumbent governor.
Garcia’s path to victory already appears arduous. Ducey, with his massive war chest and financial support from the Republican Governors Association, will blanket the airwaves with advertisements touting the governor’s re-election bid. The RGA has already put down $9.2 million in ad time to prevent a Democrat from winning the governorship.
But in front of a packed audience Tuesday, Garcia dismissed the attack ads as deceptive and dishonest.
“It is not going to work this time because all the money in the world, all the slick ads, all the dishonest ads are not going to help us forget that our schools are still in crisis,” he said.
The RGA fired back at Garcia on Tuesday, characterizing him as part of the “radical far-left” wing of the Democratic Party.
Garcia ran as an unabashed progressive by calling for free college tuition and a total overhaul of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency amid comparisons to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Citing Garcia’s calls to revamp ICE and his support for a ballot initiative that would boost renewable energy requirements in the state, RGA spokesman Jon Thompson called Garcia’s political agenda too expensive for the state.
“David Garcia’s radical agenda would be a dangerous disaster for Arizona,” he said.
In the governor’s race, Garcia and Democratic groups are unlikely to have anywhere near as much spending power as Ducey and his allies.
But if elected, Garcia would be Arizona’s second Hispanic governor, following Raul Castro who served more than four decades ago.
All three candidates support the Invest in Education Act and vowed to undo Ducey’s Border Strike Force, if elected.
With teachers fired up by the “Red for Ed” movement, the democratic gubernatorial candidates tried desperately to capture as much of the education vote as possible in the lead up to the primary. Education funding was often a hot topic of debate at most of the debates and forums in which the candidates participated.
Garcia jumped into the governor’s race last year after Ducey signed legislation to create universal vouchers. Garcia was so incensed by the action that he characterized as a major blow to public education in Arizona that he set his sights on ousting Ducey. Garcia sees raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents as the key to funneling more money into K-12 education.
After his win Tuesday, Garcia hearkened back to Ducey’s voucher expansion. That was the end of the public education as Arizonans knew it, he said.
“If you take away one thing from this night, I want you to remember this,” Garcia said. “We will never have a governor more committed to public education than me.”
Democrats are increasingly fired up this election cycle. With President Donald Trump in the White House and Arizona teachers demanding their voices be heard, Democrats are hoping they can turn that liberal outrage into enough votes to oust Ducey from the governor’s office.
But in a deeply conservative state like Arizona, Democrats don’t have a great track record of winning statewide office. Janet Napolitano, the state’s last Democratic governor, was elected in 2002.
In light of Sen. John McCain’s death, Garcia vowed to limit his campaigning on Wednesday and Thursday as the late senator is honored at the Capitol and at a memorial service.
Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
By The Numbers
Steve Farley: 34 percent
David Garcia: 49 percent
Kelly Fryer: 17 percent