While some state Senate candidates can relax – nine are unopposed both in the August primary and the general, and a few others are facing only token opposition in districts that are safe for their parties – other would-be legislators have tough races ahead of them.
The deadline for candidates to file to run in the August primary passed on April 4.
The Democrats’ path to flip two more seats in each legislative chamber for a majority – already expected to be tough in a year where President Joe Biden is polling poorly and Republicans are hoping to make big gains nationwide – could be complicated in the Arizona House.
That’s because only one Democratic candidate filed to run for the House in three of the state’s most competitive districts, which guarantees that even if Democrats were to do well in these suburban Phoenix districts, Republicans will win the other seat in those three districts. That means the Democrats’ only hope for 31 House seats is to score some upsets in even redder territory.
However, running only one Democrat in these districts greatly increases the chances that the one Democrat will win in November, said political consultant Chuck Coughlin. In Arizona’s system, where up to two candidates from each party all run against each other in the general election for two House seats and the top two vote-getters win, only having one Democrat means all the Democrats will likely vote for that one person, and they can then focus on courting enough independents to ensure they get more votes than at least one of the Republicans.
It’s “highly disciplined, instead of the barroom brawl that Republicans are having,” Coughlin said.
“It’s actually the best way to pick up a seat,” Coughlin said. “They get all the Democratic votes and they’re not diluting all the Democrats between two candidates and they’re making their choice simpler.”
Before that happens, though, candidates need to get their party’s nominations first. Some of the most competitive primaries will likely happen in safe districts such as the very red District 7, or very Democratic districts 5 and 11 in Phoenix, which have drawn crowded fields of candidates, including some incumbents who will be running against each other due to redistricting.
“I think the Capitol crowd is going to focus on those races where we have incumbent versus incumbent, not only in the primary of course but in the general,” said Republican consultant Stan Barnes. “Like District 4, with Sens. (Nancy) Barto and (Christine) Marsh running against one another. It’s hard to avoid those races being the top of the stack of interest – after all, there’s going to be a losing incumbent that does not return, and everyone will want to know how that’s going to play out.”
Legislative races take shape
Thirty-three of the House’s 60 members are running for re-election to their House seats. In the Senate, five members are retiring and seven are running for other offices. Only half of the Senate Democrats will attempt to stay in their chamber, and some are in difficult races.
All eyes are on District 7, which stretches from Flagstaff to the outskirts of Tucson and where conservative incumbents Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa will compete to keep their seat.
Rogers was censured by the Senate on March 1 for making violent comments, and Townsend denounced her for refusing to apologize for them. Shortly thereafter, Townsend dropped out of her congressional race and announced that she would run in the Senate again against her former ally.
The House races there could get equally messy, with Reps. David Cook, R-Globe, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, and Brenda Barton, R-Payson, competing against newcomer David Marshall for two spots on the November ballot.
And this isn’t the only district where incumbents will be competing for their political futures. In District 5 Reps. Jennifer Longdon, Amish Shah and Sarah Liguori are running for re-election against two other Democrats. Marsh will face Barto in light-red District 4, which includes Paradise Valley and parts of Scottsdale and North Phoenix.
Marsh isn’t the only Democratic incumbent who will face a tougher race due to redistricting – Reps. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, and Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, will also face more Republican electorates in their suburban Phoenix districts than they did before.
The most crowded House primary will be in south Phoenix’s District 11, where Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez and six other Democrats are vying for two House seats. In District 4 six Republicans, including former Rep. Maria Syms and Ducey budget director Matt Gress, are seeking the two House seats, while only one Democrat, Laura Terech, has filed.
Barnes said he was struck by the number of people interested in running for the House this year, which he said seems unusually competitive.
“I think it reflects the political dynamics in both parties where the more pragmatic portions of the party are wrestling with the more ideological portions of the party both in the Republican and Democratic side,” he said.
However, even if Democrats win all the House seats in the 12 safely Democratic districts created by redistricting, plus both seats in the newly created District 9 – a Mesa district that leans Democratic by less than a point – even if Schwiebert, Terech and Pawlik all win, that would only give Democrats 29 seats in the House, the same as now.
The next-most-competitive districts are the Casa Grande area’s District 16, where only one Democrat will be on the ballot alongside the two winners of the GOP primary, and District 17, a Republican-leaning district in northern Pima County where two Republicans and two Democrats will be facing off in November.
Then-President Trump and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally carried both districts, albeit by narrow margins and with a lot of ticket-splitting in 17 especially, according to an analysis by consultant Landon Wall.
Barnes agrees with the conventional wisdom that his party will expand its legislative majorities in November.
“Democrats have real headwind in redistricting and the extremely weak and unpopular president of their party in the White House,” Barnes said. “Those are two formidable challenges for successful Democratic takeover of one or both chambers.”
Whatever happens, Barnes said, there will be more new faces in the Legislature in 2023 than he has seen in any year since 1988. And, the Legislature will have its first parent/child pair since Pete and Rebecca Rios – Rep. Jacqueline Parker is running unopposed for re-election in District 15, while her mother Barbara Parker is running for a House seat in neighboring District 10. (There is a Democrat running but it’s a heavily Republican district.)
“There are going to be a lot of new people, a lot, because of the combination of retirements, term limits, people running for other offices, people running against one another where an incumbent will lose,” Barnes said. “There are just going to be a lot of new people, and there’s good and bad with that.”
Crowded field of U.S. House hopefuls
U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran is no stranger to close elections. His congressional district, which is the 2nd District on the new map, has been one of the most competitive in the state – it was the only one in 2016 to elect a Democratic congressman despite giving a plurality of its vote to Donald Trump.
However, with the addition of some Republican parts of Gila, Yavapai and Pinal counties, O’Halleran’s rural northeastern Arizona district has moved from six points redder than the national average to 15 points redder, according to FiveThirtyEight’s redistricting tracker, making an already competitive district even tougher to hold in a year when Biden is polling badly.
“We know this race will be tough, but I’ve never been one to back away from a tough race before, and I don’t intend to now,” O’Halleran said after the final maps were approved. “This election will require a lot of doors knocked, many phone calls made, and all-encompassing voter turnout from Arizonans across our beautiful state.”
Seven Republicans are seeking the party’s nomination to challenge O’Halleran, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Of them, former U.S. Navy Seal Eli Crane has raised the most money, followed by state Rep. Walt Blackman, a U.S. Army veteran and Republican from Snowflake. Other candidates include Andy Yates, who used to work for the International Republican Institute promoting democracy abroad; Williams Mayor John Moore; and Ron Watkins, who said he believes the 2020 election presidential election was stolen and who some journalists and researchers believe to have been behind QAnon. Watkins has denied this.
Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick is retiring from her position this year leaving the new 6h District open for a newcomer. Although Kirkpatrick is a Democrat, the new district leans blue and includes five Republican candidates and three Democratic candidates. State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, joined the race with former Sen. Kirsten Engel. On the Republican side, no one is running who has experience in office.
In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent David Schweikert will try to stay in office in a district that still leans Republican. In the primary race, Schweikert will go against two other Republicans. Two Democrats also made the cut for this election: Jevin Hodge and Ginger Torres. Torres has the endorsement of some current members of Congress, including Rep. Raul Grijalva.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar – the latter of whom has been a frequent target of national media coverage and Democratic criticism over his support for overturning the 2020 election and his coziness with white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes – aren’t opposed by any Democrats. Lesko doesn’t even have a primary challenger, while Gosar will have to beat three other Republicans before the winner cruises to election unopposed.