Battle of GOP Titans in Arizona Likely to Be Avoided

Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:23pm

The chatter among Arizona Republican insiders is that state Senate President Russell Pearce will not run in the open 6th district next year, giving a boost to the party’s other likely contenders in the GOP-leaning district.

A bid by Pearce, who authored the controversial state immigration law, would have set up a high-profile matchup with state Speaker Kirk Adams, as well as former state Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray, who is already in the race. Without Pearce, insiders said, Adams becomes the clear frontrunner in the race to replace Rep. Jeff Flake (R), who is vacating the seat to run for Senate.

“That helps put Kirk Adams in the driver’s seat,” Republican strategist Brian Murray said. “It gives him the opportunity to really build his brand and name ID. It opens it up for other people, too, but Adams becomes the top beneficiary.”

Pearce has come under scrutiny recently for his ties to an investigation into Fiesta Bowl spending and donations, first reported by the New York Times. According to the report, Pearce accepted free travel across the country from the Phoenix-based bowl committee. Attempts to reach Pearce for comment were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Adams told Roll Call recently that his phone nearly “exploded” when Sen. Jon Kyl (R) announced his retirement in February. With Flake already expected to run for Senate, supporters urged Adams to run for the East Valley district.

Adams is still strongly considering a bid but has been tied down dealing with the state’s budget, which was agreed upon Friday. Adams penned an editorial in Monday’s Arizona Republic, which caused speculation in the state that it was a preview of what his Congressional campaign will sound like.

“Voters told politicians last November they wanted government to live within its means,” Adams wrote. “While it doesn’t appear Washington completely comprehended that message, we did in the Arizona Legislature.”

Arizona has a resign-to-run statute that would require Adams to resign his state House seat if he officially announces a Congressional bid during an off-year. To keep his seat and still raise money for a bid, Adams could simply form a Congressional exploratory committee and withhold an official announcement until January.

Speaking with Roll Call on Monday, Gray indicated he would criticize Adams or Pearce if they resign their seats just a few months after being sworn in to a new term. Gray purposely did not run for re-election last year so he could run for Congress.

Republicans won the 6th district with more than 60 percent of the vote in the past two presidential elections, and GOP insiders said it would be difficult to redraw this district to be much less favorable to the party.

“I don’t see a way even through the redistricting process you make the East Valley not conservative Republican,” said Murray, a partner at Lincoln Strategy Group. “The question is who becomes the standard-bearer.”