Farm Team: Arizona Raises Drama, Candidates

Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:02pm

There are two certainties in Arizona politics: churn and drama.

“Arizona is the Wild West when it comes to political opportunities,” GOP consultant Chris DeRose said. “There are plenty of ambitious politicians and plenty of races for them to run in.”

There are only a handful of entrenched incumbents on the ballot thanks to state term limits, a unique redistricting process and a booming Hispanic population that makes the former GOP stronghold more competitive with every cycle. And so for the ambitious politician, opportunities — and contested races — abound.

In 2014, Republicans have their eye on freshman Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in the 9th District. One of their top choices to challenger her is a familiar GOP face: former Rep. Ben Quayle.

It’s a competitive seat, and many Republicans wanted Quayle to run there instead of challenging fellow Republican Rep. David Schweikert in their member-vs.-member primary last year. Both Sinema and Quayle boast national fundraising networks and profiles, which would make for Quayle’s second marquee Arizona race in as many cycles.

But the former vice president’s son remains a source of interest in Arizona GOP circles, and Republicans mention his name for nearly every office in the state.

Two other Republicans, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers and businessman Martin Sepulveda, signaled to CQ Roll Call last fall that they were considering challenging Sinema. At least one GOP consultant said Vernon Parker, the party’s 2012 nominee for the 9th District, could run again.

The 2014 stakes are especially high for Quayle, Schweikert and Sinema. They are all mentioned as someday Senate candidates, along with Republican Rep. Matt Salmon.

But someday might be a while away still. The next Senate contest is 2016, when Republican John McCain is up. Many local GOP operatives bet McCain will not retire, but that does not stop speculation about who his successor could be.

For Democrats, political speculation continues to focus on another well-known name: former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She explored a Senate run before she was shot outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket in 2011.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially endorsed her friend Giffords for Senate at an EMILY’s List event in Washington, D.C., last spring.

“We all know, when we talk about future careers in the United States Senate, Gabby will be back,” Wasserman Schultz said.

But Arizona sources are unsure whether Giffords will ever be able to make a full physical and political comeback. Local Democrats have turned their sights on her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, instead.

Kelly could run in his wife’s former district, the 2nd, if the current occupant retires, although he has not expressed any public interest yet. Rep. Ron Barber, 67, served as a top aide to Giffords before he was shot twice in the same supermarket massacre.

Democrats were shocked by Barber’s razor-thin victory last year, and now they’re worried that retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally will beat him if she runs again. National Republicans rave about McSally, who has made frequent, high-profile visits to Washington since her defeat.

Should Barber lose or retire, there are a couple of possible future Democratic contenders, aside from Kelly.

The list includes businesswoman Nan Stockholm Walden, a staffer to former Sens. Bill Bradley and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Another Democrat, state Sen. Steve Farley, previously eyed the seat.

The field is much more clear in the 7th District, a safe Democratic seat that Rep. Ed Pastor has represented for 11 terms. Democrats widely consider assistant state House Minority Leader Ruben Gallego to be Pastor’s heir apparent whenever the congressman chooses to retire.

Republican state Rep. Adam Kwasman is being pushed as a potential challenger to Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Democrats have pitched Kirkpatrick as a viable candidate for governor, but there is little evidence she is exploring a run for that office.

Without a Senate race in 2014, the looming gubernatorial race has taken over as the state’s political focus. Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, has not yet announced whether she will seek re-election. It’s not even clear yet whether she is eligible to run under state law.

The top Democratic contender is former Surgeon General Richard Carmona. Democrats hold out hope he’ll make another statewide run after his competitive, but ultimately unsuccessful, bid against now-Sen. Jeff Flake last fall.

“I don’t think we’ve heard the last from him,” his former spokesman Andy Barr said.

Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays.