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Pederson Will Formally Enter Ariz. Senate Race

For the second time in three weeks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has secured the candidate it wanted to challenge an incumbent Republican in a GOP-leaning state.

Arizona real estate developer Jim Pederson (D) will announce his plans to challenge Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday, which begs the question: Why are Democrats so confident they can win in two states in 2006 — first Missouri and now Arizona — that leans Republican and went solidly for President Bush just last year?

“For the simple reason that the Senators in those states have not been serving their constituents well. People don’t associate real accomplishment with them,” said DSCC Communications Director Phil Singer, commenting on Pederson’s chances of ousting Kyl.

“Gov. [Janet] Napolitano won the [Arizona] governor’s seat a couple of years ago. And while Bush won the state, Arizona Democrats are showing they can win statewide there,” Singer said.

Just two weeks after Missouri Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) announced she would challenge Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Pederson is set to formally declare his candidacy with a news conference in Casa Grande. His candidate papers already have been filed.

Pederson, a resident of Phoenix, is a native of Casa Grande, a town of 30,000 about 50 miles south of Phoenix. The former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party presided over Napolitano’s 2002 victory, and made millions developing shopping centers throughout the state.

Earl de Berge, an independent Phoenix pollster, said a Kyl-Pederson matchup could be among the most interesting and competitive in the country.

But de Berge disputed the DSCC’s contention that Kyl is a weak candidate, and said Pederson has yet to prove himself.

“I think [Pederson] has a reasonable chance. The environment in Arizona is fairly fluid,” said de Berge, research director for the independent Behavior Research Center. “Pederson, however, is an unknown quantity.”

Two key factors to monitor, de Berge explained, are which direction Arizona’s growing number of independent voters tilt — up to 25 percent of registered voters are not affiliated with a political party — and where Bush’s approval ratings are next year.

Arizona Republicans, while acknowledging the independent streak of Grand Canyon State voters, say they still tend to favor GOP policies, including tax cuts. And they describe Kyl as a “workhorse” and one of the most effective Senators to ever serve the state in Washington.

“I watched Jim Pederson in action. He is a very partisan Democrat who passionately supported the liberal policies of John Kerry, Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy,” said Bob Fannin, former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party who served opposite Pederson.

Kyl reported having $3.6 million in cash on hand at the end of June, and national Republicans say they’ll be there to help him if he needs more, though they don’t expect him to.

Nor do they expect Pederson to be a serious threat, calling him the “George Soros of Arizona,” whose politics were resoundingly defeated last year when Bush defeated Kerry.

“Jon Kyl will be just fine,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.