In Southern Arizona, two of the most competitive congressional seats in the country are up for grabs as U.S. Reps. Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick seek to hang on to their jobs. The Nov. 4 election is more than eight months away, but the battle is already joined: Americans for Prosperity, backed by the big-spending Koch brothers, has spent roughly $650,000 on TV attack ads targeting Barber and Kirkpatrick. Last week, the House Majority PAC struck back with $200,000 in TV ads defending the two Democrats.
On the statewide level, term limits and naked ambition are leaving top statewide offices up for grabs. By the end of the year, we'll have a new governor, a new secretary of state and a new treasurer. Races for attorney general and state superintendent of public instruction promise to be lively affairs. And higher campaign-contribution limits will combine with dark money from independent campaigns to ensure a blizzard of misinformation and malarkey in races across the board.
Here's our preseason report on who is lining up at the starting gate. Expect changes; candidates have until May 28 to file nominating petitions for the Aug. 26 primary, so feet could get cold or bellies could fire up in the next four months.
U.S. Congress, District 1
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick represents a district where 40 percent of the voters are Democrats and just 31 percent are Republicans. But that 9-percentage-point lead on paper doesn't mean a Republican can't win the district. Kirkpatrick beat Republican Jonathan Paton by fewer than 4 percentage points in 2012 and Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama.
Three Republicans want to take on Kirkpatrick:
• Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin. Tobin lives outside the district's boundaries in Prescott, but he's got a lot of connections in Northern Arizona. He's already picked up the endorsements of a half-dozen mayors, five sheriffs (including Pinal County's Paul Babeu) and law-enforcement groups such as the Arizona Police Association and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
• State Rep. Adam Kwasman. Kwasman may be in his first term in the Arizona House of Representatives, but he's had experience in congressional races. Kwasman was the campaign manager for Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party candidate who nearly defeated Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in a 2010 congressional race. Kwasman is taking the same tack as Kelly did four years ago, attacking Tobin as a friend of big government who didn't do enough to stop Arizona's Medicaid expansion, fight public-sector unions, block the Common Core learning standards and such.
• Gary Kiehne. A Springerville native, Kiehne is the real wild card in the race. He's a rancher and an oilman who tweets photos of himself roping calves in rodeos, establishing bona fides that are likely to resonate with rural voters. Kiehne is beating the limited-government drum. But how deep will he dip into his own wallet to get that message out?
U.S. Congress, District 2
Republican Martha McSally came within a few thousand votes of unseating Democrat Ron Barber in 2012—and the former A-10 squadron commander wants another shot at him this year.
McSally caught a break earlier this month when her most formidable Republican opponent, Ed Martin, dropped out of the race. While Martin didn't pose a huge threat to McSally (who raised $358,000 in the third quarter of 2013's reporting cycle), his presence in the race might have required her to stake out conservative positions that could have come back to haunt her in a general election matchup. Now she only has to face fellow Republican Shelley Kais, a businesswoman who is making her first run for public office.
District 2, which includes most of metro Pima County plus rural Cochise County, is one of the most competitive districts in the nation and Barber can't count on the same turnout of Democrats who come out for a presidential contest. But he does have a campaign team that knows how to target voters precinct by precinct.
U.S. Congress, District 3
Democrat Raúl Grijalva, who represents a district where 42 percent of the voters are Democrats and just 21 percent are Republican, has faced no serious opposition since he was first elected in 2002. He's not likely to have any trouble this year, as Republican Gabby Saucedo Mercer, who lost to Grijalva by 21 percentage points in 2012, wants a rematch.
With Republican Jan Brewer term-limited, there's a lot of excitement about the race for governor this year—although most of that excitement surrounded the potential candidacy of washed-up action star Steven Seagal, who offhandedly told a Phoenix TV station he had talked with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio about possibly running for the state's top job. Alas, it appears Seagal does not meet the constitutional residency requirements.
Instead, a six-way Republican primary is brewing. The candidates:
• Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, who jumped into politics in 2010 after leaving his job as president and CEO of a Cold Stone Creamery franchise. Ducey, who helped elevate his statewide profile by heading the opposition to an unsuccessful 2012 sales-tax proposition that would have funded schools and roads, has already raised more than $1 million for his campaign.
• Arizona Secretary of State and political veteran Ken Bennett. Before his six years as SOS, Bennett served eight years in the Arizona Legislature, including four years as Senate president.
• Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who announced earlier this month that he was forming an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial run. (Arizona's resign-to-run law would have required Smith to quit his mayoral post had he not gone the exploratory route.) Smith can point to Mesa's economic-development success and could be considered the moderate of the bunch for his support of Brewer's Medicaid expansion.
• Attorney Christine Jones, the former general counsel for GoDaddy.com who is launching her political career with a run for the state's top office. Based on her website and other social media, Jones is sticking to the conservative template with promises to lower taxes, cut government, secure the border, etc. She's also been buttering up Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in an evident effort to sweet-talk an endorsement out of Sheriff Joe. Jones has a political advantage as the only woman in the race, but it remains to be seen how she'll do on the stump.
• Disbarred attorney Andrew Thomas, who lost his law license following a State Bar investigation that concluded Thomas had used his position as Maricopa County attorney to launch prosecutorial witch hunts against his political enemies and various judges.
• State Sen. Al Melvin, a SaddleBrooke resident who has made headlines for his efforts to wrest control of federal lands in Arizona, build dumps for other states' nuclear waste and stop Arizona's trees from using so much water.
Democrats hope that the Republican primary will be similar to the 2012 presidential race, when Mitt Romney had to stake out conservative positions that later came back to haunt him in the general election. The sole Democrat in the race is Fred DuVal, an Arizona native who cut his teeth in former Gov. Bruce Babbitt's administration in the 1980s. DuVal served in the Clinton White House in the 1990s. And after an unsuccessful congressional run in 2002, he served on the Arizona Board of Regents.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has his share of legal troubles. The state's top law-enforcement official has been accused of leaving the scene of a parking-garage fender-bender while on an afternoon lunch date with a mistress; as if that's not enough, two Republican county attorneys have accused him of violating campaign finance laws by coordinating with an independent campaign committee in 2010. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has ordered Horne to cough up roughly $400,000 to resolve those campaign-finance violations; Horne has denied the charges and demanded a hearing that's scheduled for next month.
The embattled attorney general has tried to distract voters from those problems with his efforts to prevent community colleges from charging in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants eligible for the Obama administration's deferred-action program, his full-throated defenses of state abortion laws that federal courts have found unconstitutional and his attacks on Obamacare.
Those are good plays to the base, but Horne has still drawn a conservative challenger in the GOP primary: Mark Brnovich, who has worked as a county, state and federal prosecutor. Brnovich has also worked for the Goldwater Institute, served as senior director of the private-prison company Corrections Corporation of America and headed up the state's Department of Gaming. He's scored endorsements from U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Len Munsil, president of Arizona Christian University.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Felecia Rotellini, who has been a prosecutor for the Arizona Attorney General's Office and head of the State Banking Department. Rotellini came within 4 percentage points of beating Horne in 2010—the narrowest gap for any Democrat running statewide.
Secretary of State
Earlier this month, Democrat Terry Goddard—who has lost three races for governor and won two races for attorney general—announced via Facebook that he wanted to run for secretary of state, saying that he "can't stay on the sidelines when fair elections are at risk and dark money is polluting campaign financing."
Goddard's decision sets up a primary race against Leah Landrum Taylor, who has served in the Arizona Legislature since 1998. Landrum Taylor, who was unseated from her position as Senate minority leader late last year by her fellow Democrats, says she sees the secretary of state job as a natural next step in her career as a public servant.
"A lot more needs to be done; there's a lot more to give back," Landrum Taylor says.
There's a three-way primary brewing on the Republican side. Wil Cardon, who spent more than $9 million in a doomed effort to defeat U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake in the 2012 GOP primary, wants back in the political game; state Sen. Michele Reagan, who pushed through a controversial package of election reforms in the last legislative session, is looking to move up to statewide office; and state Rep. Justin Pierce has jumped into the hunt.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Republican incumbent John Huppenthal, who is best known in Southern Arizona for his efforts to dismantle TUSD's Mexican-American studies program, wants a second term, but he faces a potential primary challenge from former Peoria Unified School District Board member Diane Douglas, who vows to do whatever she can to battle the Common Core learning standards.
Democrats seeking the job include David Garcia, an education analyst and professor at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and Sharon Thomas, a Cochise County teacher.
With incumbent Doug Ducey off to seek the governor's office, there's an open seat for state treasurer. So far, four Republicans are on the campaign trail: former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, former Chandler councilman Martin Sepulveda, former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen and political newcomer Jeff DeWit.
Arizona Corporation Commission
Two of five seats are up for grabs on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates businesses and utilities. The commissioners, who are all Republicans, generally stay out of the spotlight but in recent months they grabbed headlines over a major policy fight regarding subsidies for solar energy. Expect a lot of talk about renewable energy on the campaign trail.
Commissioner Brenda Burns isn't seeking re-election and Commissioner Gary Pierce has hit his term limit, so there are two open seats. GOP candidates include state Rep. Tom Forese of Chandler; Doug Little, who has worked in the software industry; former state lawmaker Lucy Mason; and political newcomer Bonnie Katz.
Democrats considering a run include former commissioner Sandra Kennedy and Jim Holaway, an expert in water and land-use policy who serves on the board of the Central Arizona Project Conservation District.
Southern Arizona's Legislative Races
The Tucson metro area is home to two of the state's most competitive legislative districts, split by Speedway Boulevard.
On the northern side of Speedway Boulevard, District 9 includes the Catalina foothills, Casas Adobes and Marana. Democrats make up 37 percent of the voters in LD9 and Republicans make up 32 percent. It's currently represented by Republican Ethan Orr and Democrat Victoria Steele in the House of Representatives, but Democrats hope to knock out Orr with Randy Friese, a UA Medical Center trauma doctor who landed in the spotlight as one of the surgeons who sprang into action after the mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011.
Orr has some troubles within his own party because he backed Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion, but it remains to be seen whether he'll draw any challengers in a Republican primary.
A Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Steve Farley has yet to emerge.
On the south side of Speedway, in Legislative District 10, 36 percent of the voters are Democrats and 33 percent are Republicans, but Democrats hold all three seats. State Sen. Dave Bradley has yet to draw a GOP opponent; State Reps. Stefanie Mach and Bruce Wheeler may face a challenge from Republican Todd Clodfelter, who fell short in a 2012 effort for a House seat.
In the westside's heavily Democratic Legislative District 3, Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford is running unopposed for now, while Reps. Macario Saldate and Sally Gonzales may face a challenge from Republican Patricia Anne Flores.
Legislative District 11, a Republican-dominated district that reaches from Oro Valley to the town of Maricopa, will see a lot of change this year. Current Sen. Al Melvin is running for governor and Rep. Adam Kwasman is pursuing a congressional seat.
That leaves an opening for the other House member, Rep. Steve Smith, to make a return to the state Senate this year. But first, he has to win a Republican primary contest with Scott Bartle, a Maricopa school board member and businessman who owns a marketing firm and newsgathering organization.
Democrat Jo Holt, a retired biochemist who lost a race against Melvin in 2012, has her 2014 Senate campaign underway.
It appears to be smooth sailing for the two Republicans who are seeking the open House seats: Vince Leach is a retired agricultural products salesman from SaddleBrooke who has worked on the campaigns of Al Melvin, Jonathan Paton and others and Mark Finchem is a former cop and firefighter who has also worked in real estate. Former Pima County Republican Party chairman Bob Westerman was in the race until last weekend, when he announced he was dropping out. The Democrats have yet to field a candidate in the House race.
In Legislative District 2, which includes Tucson's south side, Green Valley, Sahuarita and Nogales, newly appointed state Sen. Andrea Dalessandro—who was appointed to replace the retiring Linda Lopez this week—is likely to seek a full term in the fall. Dalessandro's appointment has left a vacancy in the House that will need to be filled in the upcoming weeks, so the future of that seat is cloudy, but State Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon is expected to seek reelection. Republican John Ackerly, who lost to the Democratic candidates in 2012, also wants to make another run.
Down in Cochise County's District 14, Sen. Gail Griffin and Reps. David Gowan and David Stevens are running for re-election. There's no word of any Democratic challengers emerging in this heavily Republican district.