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FAIR GAME

Remember when presidential visits were rare enough to send the entire community into a tizzy? These days, George W. Bush drops by so often that he's practically eligible for in-state tuition.

Bush was in town earlier this week to unveil his latest immigration proposal, which involves more security and a guest-worker program, but no amnesty for the estimated 8-12 million undocumented workers now in the U.S. Guess the compassionate is now officially out of the conservatism.

Bush was also in the state to raise bucks for U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, who is facing Democrat Jim Pederson next year.

The Democrats responded with two e-mails--one from Pederson's campaign and one from state Democratic HQ--that accused the Bush administration and Kyl of botching border security.

Pederson appeared to be taking talking points from Randy Graf, with facts and figures about the crisis of illegal immigration from the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, or FAIR. Isn't that the same organization that Democrats accused of having all those racist ties back when they were supporting last year's Prop 200?


WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

In the wake of Congressman Jim Kolbe's decision to surrender the District 8 office, no legitimate newspaper would stoop to dealing in gossip, rumor-mongering and hearsay. Which, of course, is why you come to us. Let's get started, shall we? What's Kolbe going to do next? Well, the University of Arizona is looking for a new president. And isn't Kolbe pal Toni Hellon on the search committee? Oh, that's just crazy talk.

Equally nuts: The idea that Surgeon General Richard Carmona would come back to Tucson to win congressional office. Sure, he's a political superstar with a great bio, awesome name ID, brains a'plenty and sharp aim with a pistol, so the seat would probably be his for the taking. But everybody knows he really wants to come back and run for sheriff instead. Right?

In the front of the GOP pack, as it stands this week: Randy Graf landed 42.5 percent of the vote in 2004 and never stopped campaigning, so he can probably count on at least 25 percent sticking with him, even if he's no longer the anti-Kolbe lightning rod.

Randy can proudly claim he's much more right-wing than either of the other two top-tier Republicans, Pima County Supervisor "Sugar" Ray Carroll or state Rep. "Slick" Steve Huffman, who will split the moderate voters--as well as the Big Wallets who fund the campaigns. Their big argument: Randy can't win a general election. Their bigger question: Can either win the primary if they're both in it?

What if the pool gets even more crowded? Just about every pol dreams of winning a congressional seat. (Coincidently, they also have nightmares of taking the oath of office in the nude.) Mechanic Mike Jenkins, who has already lost campaigns for both the Tucson City Council and the Arizona Legislature, was falling upward by filing paperwork to run even before Kolbe made his announcement. Outgoing City Councilman Fred Ronstadt no longer has the awkward problem of resigning from his Ward 6 seat. The Brothers Bee--Keith and Tim--remain beloved in Green Valley for their stints as lawmakers. We keep hearing Mike Hellon's name, but nobody really knows who he is. He used to be some sort of muckety-muck in the GOP, but lost whatever post he had to the conservatives in an inner-party ruckus. Mike, is that an "L" on your forehead?

So what about the Democrats? As they showed in last month's City Council election, the Dems have their game face on. And there's deep dissatisfaction in the land, so if the GOP nominates someone as far right as Randy Graf, the Democrats would have a real shot at winning, even with their registration disadvantage.

The only Democrat who was running before Kolbe made his announcement was the little-known Jeff Latas, a commercial airline pilot who Democrats would have welcomed as the next sacrificial lamb against the incumbent.

But now that they smell a real chance to win, watch for the party to close ranks behind their best bet: State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords.

A bunch of previous losers in the district may be tempted to jump in--we're looking your way, Eva Bacal, Mary Judge Ryan, George Cunningham, Tim Sultan and Tom Volgy--but Giffords, should she choose to run, should have the title sewn up. She's got name ID, smarts, charm and a financial base. And she'd look real good in a head-to-head match-up with Randy Graf. State Rep. Ted Downing is making phone calls to gauge his chances. Ted, we can tell you them right now: Zip. Your anti-war stuff isn't going to play in Sierra Vista, and you're not impressing anybody with that United Nations experience. Might as well angle for Gabby's Senate seat.

That could mean Downing would go head-to-head for the District 28 Senate seat with his seatmate, Rep. Dave Bradley, who consistently runs behind Downing on Election Day. Will Bradley stay put or jump for the higher office? And can either one fix an appointment to the job by the Board of Supervisors if/when Giffords decides to resign? If Bradley or Downing lands appointment to the Senate job, who gets the open House seat? There's Ted Prezelski, whose brother Tom already serves in the House over in District 29. (Ted was a regular Matt Drudge last week, predicting Kolbe's decision on his blog--rumromanismrebellion.blogspot.com--one day before the news broke.) Having the Brothers Prezelski in the Legislature would undoubtedly lead to no end of corrections as reporters mix the two up.

Also rumored to be suffering from fire in the belly: Democrat Paula Aboud, who lost her race for Tucson City Council in 2001, and Matt Welch, the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame honcho who lost his last shot at the Legislature in 2000.


SUPED UP

As long as we're speculating about how the dominos are going to fall: If Ray Carroll decides to leave the Pima County Board of Supervisors for a congressional run, who's going to replace him in eastside District 4?

Hey, it's a hell of a gig: $68K a year, great health plan, good retirement program and wheels courtesy of taxpayers.

The four remaining supervisors would have to name a Republican to the seat--expect at least a dozen folks you've never heard of to come out of the woodwork--and then the newly appointed supe would have to face the voters later next year.

We're hearing two names: State Rep. Jonathan Paton and apartment kingpin Bruce Ash.

State law forbids lawmakers who have taken the oath of office from being appointed to the seat, so Paton can rule that one out. Ash might have a shot, but he'll have to make a really good impression on the Democrats who will control the appointment process.

Paton, a former lobbyist for the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, has a fundraising base and campaign savvy. He's also demonstrated that he's anything but media-shy.

Ash, the son of developer Paul Ash, won't have trouble raising money in the business community--and he's got plenty of his own money to drop on a race. He's got political experience, too; he started running for the Arizona Legislature in District 30 in 2002, until someone pointed out he lived in heavily Democratic District 28. We're reasonably sure he does reside in District 4.

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