Our best Christmas present this year came from Congressman Jim Kolbe, whose decision to forgo a 12th term ignited three-alarm fires in bellies across Southern Arizona. Those big-shot Beltway pundits have declared Congressional District 8 one of the most competitive races in the country, which means national consultants will be crawling all over the candidates like lice on a Sumatran rat monkey.
We'll be bringing you team coverage in our new series, Scramblewatch '06, but here's where the action stands now:
On the GOP side, the biggest head start belongs to "Righteous" Randy Graf, who has been running for the seat since the summer of 2004. Randy pulled a little more than 42 percent of the vote as the anti-Kolbe candidate that year and just kept campaigning on his platform of sealing the border, securing gun rights and banning all abortions except when the life of the mother is at stake. Randy will be running to the right of everyone else who gets into the race, unless Pat Buchanan announces he's seeking the seat.
Democrats are hopeful that Randy will carry the day, because they figure he's the easiest candidate to outmaneuver in the general election. The Republican establishment is terrified that he'll carry the day for the same reason, so they're shopping around for the anti-Graf. Among the potential contenders:
· State Rep. Steve Huffman, who has long dreamed of going to Washington. Huffman's vaulting ambition o'erleapt itself back before the congressional seat opened up, when he announced he wanted to take on state Sen. Toni Hellon in 2006. Ever since she pulled the knife out of her back, Hellon has been undermining his congressional run among the Kolbe crowd.
· Toni Hellon's ex-husband, Mike Hellon, the former Republican national committeeman who proved to be just a little too lib for the right-wing base of the GOP. Mike Hellon was ousted a couple years back in a party election that was--and you'll be shocked by this--marked by allegations of cheating on both sides.
· State Sen. Tim Bee, who demonstrated his ability to outmaneuver a right-wing candidate when he defeated rancher Bill McGibbon in his legislative debut. McGibbon, who had served in the House of Representatives, figured he was a shoo-in for the Senate, but he ran a lazy campaign and woke up a loser the morning after the 2000 primary.
· Developer and property manager Bruce Ash, a well-heeled political wannabe who's so desperate for attention that he's paying to run commentaries on The John C. Scott Show.
· UA Wildcats play-by-play man and Clear Channel honcho Dave Sitton, who has the resources to run a horizontally and vertically integrated campaign.
· Auto mechanic Mike Jenkins, the blue-collar Vietnam vet who has become hooked on running for office while losing races for the state Legislature and the Tucson City Council.
GOP leaders are still shopping around for a stronger name--paging Dr. Carmona, Dr. Richard Carmona--so keep your ears open and leak us tips and rumors.
On the Democratic side, you've got:
· Former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, the darling of the Democratic establishment. Giffords, who has spent years developing national connections, says she's already lined up endorsements and financial commitments worth a quarter-million bucks.
· Airline pilot Jeff Latas, who got into the race before Kolbe retired, making his formal announcement on Veterans Day. Latas, a former fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, faces the twin challenges of raising money and raising his name ID.
· TUSD board member Alex Rodriguez, who says his combination of military and education experience makes him the guy to beat.
· Former local newscaster Patty Weiss, who is deciding whether she wants to pursue her dream of running for Congress.
· Eva Baaaacal, a former TUSD board member who played the role of sacrificial lamb as the Democratic challenger to Kolbe in 2004.
Republican Party state chair Matt Salmon, who lost to Napolitano last time, has greeted each of these withdrawals with the same cheery soundbite about how the state is full of viable GOP candidates. Yeah, like:
· Len Munsil, who recently stepped down from his gig as ayatollah of the Center for Arizona Policy, the lobbying arm of the Christian conservative movement in Arizona. Munsil has a good base that will allow him to gather those $5 contributions he needs to get his hands on Clean Elections dollars, but has no chance of winning a statewide election in Arizona unless we start electing a state chaplain.
· Don Goldwater, nephew of the late, great Barry Goldwater, who recently quit his state job planning special events for the Department of Administration (which included heavy responsibilities like setting up chairs for parties on the Capitol mall). Goldwater is also trying to win over the right wing with publicity stunts like joining the Minutemen.
· Jan Smith Flores, a former Arizona Court of Appeals judge who hopes that marrying into a Hispanic surname will boost her standing in a race against Napolitano. ¿Es la verdad?
· John Greene, the former president of the Arizona Senate, who's hoping that the other three split the right-wing vote and allow him to win with a moderate base. That raises the question: Do moderates vote in GOP primaries?
Elsewhere on the state beat: Although he's more vulnerable than Napolitano, Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard has--so far--drawn only one potential opponent, Republican Bill Montgomery. Montgomery started practicing law about the same time that Goddard got elected four years ago, but what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in ambition.
Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer is facing a primary fight against Skip Rimsza, the former Phoenix mayor. The only Democrat now in the race is Bruce Wheeler, a former Tucson city councilman who says Brewer doesn't care about accurately counting votes.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has two Democrats duking it out to run against him: Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Slade Mead, a onetime lawmaker from Maricopa County who drove Republicans batty by sticking with the Democrats, and Jason Williams, an unknown former teacher who will probably get clobbered by Mead.
We've also got school board races, legislative races, town council races, a whole mess of ballot props and the last, best chance to approve a half-cent sales tax for transportation funding coming up in 2006. We know you're dying to know those details, but we're out of space, so you're just going to have to be patient.
One last note: General Zod of Krypton is seeking the presidency in 2008. Details at zod2008.com.