Arizona is on the move, politically speaking. Newly elected Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) has pushed legislation to move the state’s presidential primary to Feb. 3, making it a major player in the nominating process. Only the Iowa caucuses (Jan.19) and the New Hampshire primary (Jan. 27) will precede it.
And with its explosive population growth in the 1990s, the Grand Canyon State gained two House seats in reapportionment, making it the 18th-largest delegation in the 108th Congress.
In the 1970s Arizona had only three Members; New York had 41. Arizona now has eight, while New York has just 29. Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Paul Hegarty predicted that the state would gain “two or three” more seats following the 2010 Census.
“Arizona is a major player because it is a diverse state and more representative of the country,” Hegarty said.
The state is more than one-quarter Hispanic and 5 percent American Indian, according to the 2000 Census.
This diversity, coupled with the efforts of a bipartisan redistricting commission that redrew the state’s lines in 2001, has created four competitive House districts where President Bush would have won between 50 percent and 54 percent of the vote in 2000.
The focus of both parties in the 2004 election will be the massive 1st district, one of the new districts drawn by the commission, where now-Rep. Rick Renzi (R) narrowly defeated venture
capitalist George Cordova (D) in one of the most high-profile House races of the past cycle.
Many Democrats grumbled that Cordova was a flawed candidate and believed they would have won the seat if either Apache County Attorney Steve Udall or former Clinton administration aide Fred DuVal had won the primary.
Cordova was poorly financed and did not run a modern campaign, losing a district where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 35,000.
Cordova, Udall and DuVal are all potential candidates again for 2004.
Apache County Supervisor David Brown (D), whose father, Jack Brown, has served in the state Legislature on and off since 1963, is also mentioned as a future candidate in the district. Brown is Mormon, a key constituency in the district. Liz Archuleta (D), who serves on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, is also seen as a future candidate for the seat.
Renzi may draw a primary challenge from state House Speaker Jake Flake or Navajo County Supervisor Lewis Tenney, both of whom are Mormons.
Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant in Arizona, admitted that if Flake or Tenney ran it could be “problematic” for Renzi because of the “consolidation of the [Latter-day Saints] vote.”
In the 2002 GOP primary, which Renzi won with 25 percent, the Mormon vote was split between Tenney and businessman Bruce Whiting.
Aside from the 1st district, however, there is little action in the other potentially competitive House seats.
Rep. John Shadegg’s (R) Phoenix-based 3rd district would have given Bush 54 percent in 2000, but the five-term Member has never been truly tested.
Similarly, no opponents appear to be on the horizon for GOP Reps. J.D. Hayworth (54 percent Bush district) or Jim Kolbe (50 percent).
Sen. John McCain (R) looks like a safe bet for re-election in 2004, although he could draw a primary challenge from Rep. Jeff Flake. Former Republican state Attorney General Grant Woods is mentioned as a potential party switcher and Democratic Senate candidate, though that scenario appears unlikely for 2004.
Hegarty admits that Democrats are not well positioned to defeat any of those incumbents next year but said the seats would be targeted when they come open.
Hayworth has said he is interested in running for governor in 2006, and Hegarty floated the name of David Ortega (D), a Scottsdale City Councilman, as a possible candidate then. Ortega has served on the Council since May 2000 and is an architect.
On the Republican side, Rose said “the battlefield is littered with legislative casualties” and suggested that the tony Scottsdale area might produce a self-funding candidate not currently in elected office.
“I am not sure the farm team is going to apply,” he said.
Rose did mention Tom Liddy, the son of Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, as a potential candidate. Liddy placed fourth in the 1998 primary won by Flake for the then-1st district.
For the 8th district seat, Hegarty said both state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez (D) could run when Kolbe retires.
Giffords, who is in her early 30s, served one term in the state House before winning a state Senate seat in 2002.
Lopez, at 24, is the boy mayor of Nogales, a city of 21,000 that borders Mexico. Lopez is seen as a potential candidate in the 8th or the 7th district, which freshman Rep. Rául Grijalva (D) won in 2002.
Surprisingly, much of the candidate interest centers on two seats — Flake’s 6th and Rep. Ed Pastor’s (D) 4th — where the next Member will be chosen in the party primary.
Flake’s seat, a Republican stronghold based in Phoenix, is the scene of considerable speculation.
Even if he decides against a primary challenge to McCain next year, the seat will come open in 2006 assuming Flake abides by a three-term limit pledge.
State House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth (R) is the name that comes up most often as a possible successor. Rose described Farnsworth as a “tough, capable son of a gun”; he is also a Mormon.
Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley and former Queen Creek Mayor Mark Schnepf are in the Republican mix as well.
Stapley is in his second term on the board, which oversees the activities of Maricopa, the most-populous county in the state. He also has significant personal resources.
Schnepf, who co-owns Schnepf Farms and served as mayor from 1989 to 2000, has “a few sheckles of his own,” Rose said.
Liddy is also a potential candidate for the seat.
Another intriguing name being floated is that of former 1st district Rep. Matt Salmon (R), who narrowly lost the governor’s mansion to Napolitano in 2002.
“I’m not going to close the door on something I was good at,” Salmon told the Arizona Republic last week.
Pastor has represented his heavily Democratic Phoenix district since 1991 and has given no indication of slowing. If and when he does, however, several candidates are seen as successors.
State Reps. John Loredo, who is Hispanic, and Leah Landrum, the only black in the state Legislature, as well as Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox could run.
Arizona will be the scene of several contentious statewide races in 2006, as Democrats believe they can make a serious run at Sen. Jon Kyl (R), who will be up for a third term. Napolitano is seen as the Democrats’ strongest potential Senate candidate against Kyl. Wealthy state party Chairman Jim Pederson is also reportedly interested.