Progressives are a step closer to a victory in Tempe this evening, with Rep. Athena Salman and Melody Hernandez on pace to nab the two House seats in LD26 if early results hold.
Salman, D-Tempe, is coasting in first place, with 34 percent – eight points ahead of her running mate, Melody Hernandez. In third place is Debbie Nez Manuel, who’s only a point behind Hernandez, with Patrick Morales in last place.
Even with the district’s open seat, Salman and the other members of the so-called “Millennial Clean Team” – Hernandez and Sen. Juan Mendez – painted Nez Manuel’s candidacy as a threat to progressive values.
Nez Manuel received significant support from business groups, such as the Arizona Integrity PAC, which spent almost $60,000 in the race.
The district also attracted the attention of Revitalize AZ, a PAC operated by powerful labor attorney Israel Torres that has backed moderate challengers in several House districts after legislative Democrats failed to deliver on a labor bill in 2018.
Some have accused Torres of carrying water for business interests by primarying otherwise reliable progressives. But Torres counters that his track record in union politics speaks for itself, and that he has every right to support challengers he believes will best represent labor interests in the state – especially if they’re gunning for an empty seat, as is the case in LD26.
In total, independent expenditure groups spent more than $200,000 on Nez Manuel’s behalf.
Hernandez is a paramedic and labor shop steward whose personal story and profession appears to be resonating with voters amid a global pandemic.
Salman, who serves as House Minority Whip, has served in the Legislature since 2017. She’s among the Legislature’s most outspoken progressives, and has grown to be a key player in the caucus since ascending to a leadership role.
In the Senate, Mendez – who’s also Salman’s husband – fended off his challenger, Torres-backed candidate Lynn Granillo.