Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords came out swinging before midnight on primary day with an e-mail welcoming Republican Jesse Kelly to the race.
And what a welcome it was: By the next day, Giffords had a TV spot up that hammered Kelly for his comments that he'd like to eliminate Social Security.
Kelly says he's "not surprised to see Gabrielle Giffords distorting my words" and that he believes "we must stop Giffords from bankrupting Social Security."
But Kelly was unambiguous when he told us last year that he'd "love to eliminate the program," although he said that proposal was for future retirees who would instead invest money in the stock market for their retirement.
As he works to appeal to the wider general-election audience rather than the red-meat conservatives who carried him in the primary, Kelly is walking back some of his fiery rhetoric.
When we asked Team Kelly how the government can divert a portion of Social Security taxes into private accounts without worsening the federal program's financial stability, they told us that Kelly supports Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to reform Social Security. We haven't fully unpacked the Ryan plan, but it looks to us like he wants to follow the same path as the Bush administration suggested a few years ago: Allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security in private accounts.
Kelly's efforts to recalibrate his positions led Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for the Giffords campaign, to crack wise with the comment: "History has been made in Southern Arizona and the English language has been pushed forward, because 'eliminate' and 'protect' are synonyms now."
Hilby says Kelly needs to explain how his privatization plan works in years where the market is in a downturn and retirees discover that their accounts are a lot lower than anticipated. She adds that he needs to let voters know how the government can maintain payments to current Social Security beneficiaries when it is diverting money into private accounts.
"How do you meet current retirees' benefits when younger workers have stopped fully paying into the system?" Hilby asks.
After a savvy political maneuver, Republican Greg Krino, a write-in candidate for Senate in midtown Tucson's Legislative District 28, appears to be on the November ballot.
Krino had originally signed up to run for the Arizona House of Representatives, but without a Senate GOP candidate to face Democratic Senator Paula Aboud—and with former Democratic lawmaker turned party-hating independent Ted Downing and independent Dave Ewoldt both on the ballot, potentially splitting the lefty vote—Krino decided to run as a write-in candidate for the Senate.
The Democratic vote would have to be pretty fractured for a Republican to pick up a seat in the solidly Democratic district, but Krino thinks he has a good chance.
"I think if there is any time when a Republican could get elected in District 28, it's going to be this time," Krino says. "Obviously Ted Downing is a pretty formidable candidate. Even Dave Ewoldt, I think he's pretty well known as well."
While the results still haven't been counted for write-ins, the LD28 Senate Republican race received more than 1,500 write-in votes. Krino needed only 214 votes to get on the general election ballot.
This is Krino's first run for office. He is a former Air Force A-10 fighter pilot and a UA law school graduate who recently took the bar exam.
Aboud was appointed to the seat in 2006 to replace Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down that year to run for Congress. Downing served in the House from 2003 to 2006 and lost a Senate Democratic primary to Aboud in 2006. Ewoldt is a long-time Green Party activist.
Krino says the big issue will be solving the budget and shrinking the size of government, which he says Aboud has failed to do.
"I think now days the big issue is going to be fiscal responsibility ... and the Republicans haven't been perfect on that by any means, but I think right now people are willing to take a gamble on Republicans," Krino says.
Downing, BTW, rejects the idea that he's a potential spoiler in the race.
"That may be a Democratic point of view," Downing says.
But Downing says the situation is much more complex. We don't have the space to get into all of Downing's theory here, but in a nutshell: Downing says that Krino really got into the race because state Sen. Russell Pearce—author of SB 1070 and the new face of the Arizona GOP—is worried that if Downing wins, the former Democrat will caucus with the Republicans and keep Pearce from becoming Senate president next year.
Of course, that assumes that the GOP would want Downing to caucus with them—and we're not persuaded that he'd be all that welcome in the GOP circle.
Downing complained that The Skinny was looking at the race the wrong way when we asked about whether Krino had a better shot of winning the seat because Downing had decided to run as an independent. "You've got your story written," he griped.
Adam Kinsey, executive director of the Pima County Democratic Party, is blunt in his assessment of Downing's theory.
"If that's what Mr. Downing thinks, then he's delusional," says Kinsey, who adds that the Republicans are doing what he'd do in a similar circumstance: Running a Republican in hopes that the Democratic candidate is weakened and allows the Republican to pick up a seat.
"It's not a bad plan," Kinsey says. "Ultimately I don't think it will be successful."
Kinsey sees Downing's campaign as an independent as his "last gasp of political air." Although Downing has done good things in the past, Kinsey predicts the former lawmaker will be remembered "as a guy who couldn't leave well enough alone."
A side note: Midtown Tucson was last represented by a Republican when Ed Poelstra slipped into the House of Representatives in 2000. In that race, Ted Downing's son, Demitri Downing, lost votes to Green Party candidate Katie Bolger. Ten years later, Bolger is now a vice-chair of the Pima County Democratic Party and chief of staff for Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham, where she's also Demitri Downing's boss.
Former state Sen. Ted Downing could end up the spoiler who helps Republican Greg Krino beat Democrat Paula Aboud.
But his notion of a non-partisan legislature seems right on target, according to a survey by the ASU's Morrison Institute.
The poll of 614 Arizonans showed that 86 percent said they'd like a "jungle primary" system where all the candidates were on the ballot together and the top two advance to the general election, rather than the current system of partisan primaries.
And 61 percent said they'd like the candidates to not even have partisan identification next to their names on the ballot.
California voters just approved jungle primaries a few months ago, but it'll take a few years before we know the outcome in our neighboring state.
Downing says he's thrilled to see the results of the poll.
"I was quite encouraged," Downing says. "It always makes you feel good to know you read the tea leaves the right way."
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