Primary Observations

Questions and answers about last week's election

How did Republican Jesse Kelly pull off his victory over former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton in the GOP primary in Congressional District 8?

We've talked to a number of folks about that one and here's the consensus: Paton, who was the favorite of the GOP establishment, made a number of crucial mistakes, including focusing on U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords instead of Kelly and spending too much money over the summer, which left him without enough cash to buy TV time as early voting started.

On top of that, Kelly had been in the race a lot longer and proved to be a more dynamic speaker on the stump—and he better reflected the national GOP mood, which favors new faces over experienced politicos, especially if they've also worked as lobbyists for unsavory clients such as the payday-loan industry.

Does Kelly stand a chance against Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?

In a year as strange as 2010, anything can happen. And on the national generic House ballot, Republicans are doing better than Democrats on a national level.

But there's a reason that one of the loudest cheers at the Democrat's party on Election Night was for Kelly's win over Paton: They clearly see Kelly as the weaker candidate.

We're not privy to polling numbers, but here's one thing to watch for: If the National Republican Congressional Committee starts spending money on Kelly's behalf, it's a sign that polling shows he's got a shot. If they decide to spend their limited resources elsewhere, Kelly is in trouble.

That's one reason that Team Giffords had an ad ready to roll out against Kelly on the morning after the election. They don't want him gaining any traction in the polls because they want him to be seen as a bad bet for the NRCC and other interest groups.

Democrat Rodney Glassman, the former Tucson City Council member, managed to pull out a victory in the bruising U.S. Senate primary, but can he beat Republican John McCain?

Probably not. In the waning days of the campaign, there were news reports that the Glassman campaign was falling apart, but he still managed to come out on top on Election Day. We hear that some of the stories of campaign chaos are exaggerated, but Glassman does have another problem: Democratic insiders are complaining that when he was putting together his exploratory committee, Glassman and his wealthy family indicated they'd be putting a considerable amount of financial resources both into his race and into the Arizona Democratic Party for get-out-the-vote efforts. That money has yet to materialize, leaving some folks with buyer's remorse.

How did Tom Horne manage to beat Andrew Thomas in the GOP contest for attorney general?

It appears to us that it's possible to go too far when you start prosecuting your political enemies, even when you try to cover up your abuses by going after illegal immigrants. Thomas' record as Maricopa County attorney turned off a number of conservatives who just didn't like his lack of prosecutorial discretion.

You have to give Horne credit for boiling down Thomas' complicated misdeeds into simple sound bites. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley also deserves credit for his last-minute hit on Thomas; Romley released grand-jury testimony that showed just how out of control Thomas was in his crusade against judges and Maricopa County officials who had crossed him. It was something of a kamikaze mission, given that Romley lost his Republican primary to one of Thomas' acolytes, Bill Montgomery.

Here's an interesting tidbit: For all of Thomas' focus on the border, he didn't win any border counties. They all went with Horne. A big part of that might have been Thomas' failure to even try to campaign down here because he thought he could wrap it up in Maricopa County.

Andrew Thomas didn't make it through the GOP primary, but how did conservatives do otherwise?

They had a great night, as Kelly's win over Paton in CD8 demonstrates.

The purge of moderates within the GOP is nearly complete. As state Sen. Frank Antenori said on Election Night as he crushed former state lawmaker Marian McClure by a 2-to-1 margin in Legislative District 30: "The era of big-government Republicans is over."

That appears to be true in GOP primaries; in the LD30 House race, incumbents David Gowan and Ted Vogt came in ahead of more moderate Republicans; in Legislative District 26, Terri Proud easily edged out the more moderate Wade McLean in a House race.

But the question that remains to be answered: Can Proud win a general election against Democratic incumbent Nancy Young Wright? Democrats will be focusing on keeping Wright in office and knocking off state Sen. Al Melvin with Democrat Cheryl Cage.

Here's a sign that Melvin might be turning off some Republicans in Pima County's portion of the swing district: More than 5,600 voters left their ballots blank rather than vote for Melvin, which comes out to more than 20 percent of the 26,731 Republican votes cast in the LD26 Republican primary.

Still, it's a Republican-trending year, especially in Arizona, so Democrats remain the underdog in LD26 and most statewide races.

The Arizona Daily Star's editorial page bemoaned a lousy turnout of 25 percent statewide. Was it really that bad?

Not really, unless you count all registered voters, which distorts primary contests since most independents don't have much interest in voting in primaries. In several contests in Pima County, for example, turnout was unusually high. Overall, nearly 61 percent of Republicans and nearly 41 percent of Democrats turned out to vote. Now, those percentages are inflated because they include independents who also cast ballots in the primaries; we're working on finding out how many independents voted, but the breakdown wasn't available as of our deadline.

We'll do more number-crunching online, but it does say something about this year's much-discussed enthusiasm gap that Republicans turned out in heavier numbers than Democrats did.

Many voters are moving to early voting, partially because of the county's relatively new Permanent Early Voter List, which ensures that voters who are signed up automatically get early ballots. Two-thirds of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans took advantage of early voting.

What will be the most interesting races to watch in the general election?

For the answer to that one, come back next week, when we'll lay them all out for you.