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'Lifelong Democrat' Raúl Grijalva belonged to another party, La Raza Unida, when it suited him.

It is there bigger than the usual "D" Raúl Grijalva attaches to his political career.

"Lifelong Democrat," is how Grijalva paints himself as he seeks all available advantages to elevate above seven opponents for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 7.

Grijalva, 54, was among the Chicanos who 30 years ago held contempt for the major parties. He signed up with El Partido Nacional de La Raza Unida and didn't flip to Democrat until January 1977, according to voter registration records at the Pima County Recorder's Office.

Grijalva has belittled party switchers as "opportunists" when anticipating challenges during his four successful campaigns for the Board of Supervisors. At gatherings of Pima County's Democratic elite, the Nucleus Club, Grijalva proclaims lifelong Democratic status.

Similarly, his congressional campaign Web site includes press releases touting his support among women and the endorsement handed out by former Mayor Tom Volgy, a twice-failed congressional candidate. Both state: "A lifelong Democrat, Raul M. Grijalva was born and raised ..."

Elected to the Tucson Unified School District governing board in 1974, Grijalva already was traveling the mainstream. He didn't attend the dramatic first national convention of La Raza Unida in El Paso in the late summer of 1972, when the Tejano, Jose Angel Gutierrez, outwitted Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and his phalanx of Denver Crusade for Justice toughs, for La Raza Unida's top spot. Locally, Grijalva sometimes drew criticism from another then-La Raza Unida member Salomon Baldenegro, now a researcher and writer at the University of Arizona.

Grijalva is not the lone chameleon in District 7, where Democrats roughly double the number of Republicans and where Hispanics make up nearly 51 percent of the population. Mark Fleisher, who moved to Tucson from Phoenix, was a Republican less than four years before winning election in January 1997 as chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Al Pina also has gone both ways. He was a Democrat in 1997 when he ran in the non-partisan race for Phoenix City Council. He now proclaims he is "the best thing to happen to Republicans" in Arizona as he battles frontrunner Ross Hieb, a former Yuma City Councilman, for the Republican nomination.

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