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GOP candidates won East Side, trounced in own wards
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GOP candidates won East Side, trounced in own wards

Tucson elections show east-west divide, Republican registration challenge

  • Tucson's East Side wards 2 and 4 contain most of the city's registered Republicans.
    City of TucsonTucson's East Side wards 2 and 4 contain most of the city's registered Republicans.

Demonstrating a divide in local politics, a TucsonSentinel.com analysis of City Council election results shows that the Republican candidates won the East Side, but were overwhelmed by the Democratic votes in the rest of the city — including losses in the wards they sought to represent.

Republican candidate Mike Polak summed up the GOP's problems succinctly: "Lots of people didn't turn out to vote," he said.

Results from the three Council races demonstrate one of the quirks of Tucson's government: candidates are nominated by voters in their individual wards, but are elected citywide. While that can create the curious result of a candidate winning an election but losing in his ward, as with Steve Kozachik four years ago, this year's results demonstrate the Republicans' challenge in voter registration.

GOP candidate Ben Buehler-Garcia showcased the nature of Tucson's general elections with his campaign slogan, "Vote Ben citywide," appealing to Republican voters in Wards 2 and 4 to back his second attempt at unseating Ward 3 Democrat Karin Uhlich.

Although he won both East Side wards — 9,579 to 8,822 in Ward 2 and 7,093 to 5,575 — Buehler-Garcia fell far short, including a nearly 2-to-1 pasting in the Ward he sought to represent. The Ward 3 vote went 6,011-3,324 for Uhlich.

Four years ago, Uhlich edged out Buehler-Garcia by just 175 votes, after beating Republican incumbent Kathleen Dunbar by 23 points four years earlier. The 2009 election was complicated by the presence of a Green Party candidate on the Ward 3 ballot; Mary DeCamp received 4,429 votes.

This time, Uhlich hit the challenger with a 58-42 percent landslide.

Buehler-Garcia did not respond to a request for comment.

In this year's election, political novice Polak had a similar experience in his attempt to unseat South Side incumbent Democrat Richard Fimbres. Polak narrowly won Ward 2, 9,150-9,050, and more easily in Southeast Side Ward 4, 6,965-5,629. In Ward 5, the incumbent councilman hammered Polak, 4,206-1,567. Overall, Fimbres swamped Polak 60-40 percent.

The Republicans "sent out 53,000 ballots, but just 20,000 were returned," Polak said Wednesday. "People weren't excited by the race ... they may be burned out (on politics)."

Four years ago, a battle for a Midtown Council seat saw Steve Kozachik, running as a Republican, rejected by 60 percent of the voters in Ward 6 but narrowly elected because of strong GOP returns from other wards. His results in 2009 showed the only possible path to victory for a GOP candidate in city elections — heavy East Side voting. Then, Kozachik overcame losses in the other wards by receiving 61 percent of the vote in Ward 2, and 65 percent in Ward 4; voters in those wards turned out at a higher rate than the rest of the city.

This time around, Kozachik had switched parties and the Republicans didn't field an opponent. The incumbent cruised to victory, but the partisan divide was still in play, with the majority of the 3,841 write-in votes in the race cast in wards 2 and 4.

GOP outnumbered

Even on the East Side, Republican are outnumbered, although not as heavily as in the rest of the city. While there are 96,704 registered Democrats and 53,721 Republicans registered in Tucson, the GOP has 16,746 voters compared to 17,027 Democrats in Ward 2. In Ward 4, Republicans edge Democrats 14,347 to 13,339.

Republicans are out-registered by independent voters as well, with 72,709 non-party voters in Tucson.

Turnout was as expected, with 30.4 percent of registered voters returning a ballot, compared with 33.5 percent in 2009 — the last Council election that didn't also feature a mayoral contest. That election was the final conducted before Tucson moved to an all-mail-in system of balloting.

"If it had been a ward-only election — which some people have been pointing to — the outcome would have been the same," said Jason Ground, a spokesman for the Pima County Democratic Party, pointing to the GOP's losses in the wards.

"The massive advantage in voter registration definitely benefits our side" as well, Ground said, saying the Democrats are "better organized ... we've got a better ground game. I heard they had trouble recruiting people to (make get-out-the-vote calls via) phone-bank."

"I don't think they inspire a lot of people to vote," Ground said of the GOP.

Some Republicans have contended that ward-only elections would help them win a seat or two, while acknowledging the difficulty of gaining a Council majority. Detractors of the idea maintain that both parties would use much different strategies in ward-only elections, with the Democrats still able to edge out East Side victories — especially when considering the number of independent voters.

There's also the pesky point that the last Republican to gain a Council seat — Kozachik in 2009 — did so on the strength of votes outside his ward.

In 2011, East Side GOP candidates Jennifer Rawson and Tyler Vogt won in wards 2 and 4, but weren't able to overcome the Democrats' overall registration edge. Citywide, Rawson fell 56-42 percent to Paul Cunningham in the Ward 2 election; Vogt had a more narrow 51-49 loss to incumbent Shirley Scott in the race for the Ward 4 seat.

In the 2013 contest, despite Republican voter turnout being greater than the Democrats' in every ward but Midtown's Ward 6, the sheer number of voters for the majority party meant the GOP would have to attract significant support from independent voters. But only 19 percent of non-party voters returned ballots.

To be effective competitors in city races, GOP leaders "need to revisit how they talk to people," Polak said. "They need to recruit more precinct committeemen."

Polak ventured that some voters may have been confused by the city's all-mail-in ballots, but conceded that this was the second such election for City Council.

Although he said he was "happy with my race — we got 40 percent of the vote and spent very little money," Polak acknowledged that "I didn't win."

"Leadership ... needs to be positive when talking with people," he said.

Slow results

Although the winners of the Nov. 5 election were readily apparent on election night, with the Democratic incumbents racking up margins greater than the number of ballots left to count after the initial results were dropped, city officials have been slow to trickle out the complete tally.

The final aggregate numbers were released the next Tuesday, confirming the Democrats' handy advantage in all three races. Although a precinct-by-precinct breakdown was also released that day, ward totals promised on the city's election website were yet to be posted on Wednesday, over two weeks after the election. "No results yet," the site read.

City officials weren't immediately available Wednesday to comment on the delay in posting the ward results. TucsonSentinel.com analyzed the numbers for the city's 155 precincts to determine the results in each ward.

Results by ward

Ward 1

Council Member - Ward Three Ballots Provisional Total
Karin Uhlich 5832 0 5832
Ben Buehler-Garcia 2605 0 2605
Write-in 20 0 20
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 6202 0 6202
Mike Polak 2181 0 2181
Write-in 17 0 17
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 6728 0 6728
Write-in 275 0 275

Ward 2

Council Member - Ward Three
Karin Uhlich 8822 0 8822
Ben Buehler-Garcia 9579 0 9579
Write-in 39 0 39
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 9050 0 9050
Mike Polak 9150 0 9150
Write-in 35 0 35
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 11685 0 11685
Write-in 1153 0 1153

Ward 3

Council Member - Ward Three
Karin Uhlich 6011 2 6013
Ben Buehler-Garcia 3324 0 3324
Write-in 38 0 38
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 5974 2 5976
Mike Polak 3053 0 3053
Write-in 22 0 22
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 6890 2 6892
Write-in 431 0 431

Ward 4

Council Member - Ward Three
Karin Uhlich 5575 0 5575
Ben Buehler-Garcia 7093 1 7094
Write-in 38 0 38
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 5629 0 5629
Mike Polak 6964 1 6965
Write-in 27 0 27
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 7505 0 7505
Write-in 1124 1 1125

Ward 5

Council Member - Ward Three
Karin Uhlich 3962 0 3962
Ben Buehler-Garcia 1744 0 1744
Write-in 15 0 15
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 4206 0 4206
Mike Polak 1567 0 1567
Write-in 16 0 16
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 4610 0 4610
Write-in 244 0 244

Ward 6

Council Member - Ward Three
Karin Uhlich 8478 0 8478
Ben Buehler-Garcia 3849 0 3849
Write-in 35 0 35
Council Member - Ward Five
Richard Fimbres 8538 0 8538
Mike Polak 3660 0 3660
Write-in 38 0 38
Council Member - Ward Six
Steve Kozachik 9775 0 9775
Write-in 613 0 613

TucsonSentinel.com’s Curtis Thompson contributed to the data analysis for this report.
Correction: Because of an editing error, the results of the 2009 Ward 3 race were 20 votes off when this report was first posted. Thanks for eagle-eyed reader Carolyn Classen for pointing out the typo.


Election results - citywide

Ward 3

Karin Uhlich 38,682 57.68%
Ben Buehler-Garcia 28,195 42.04%
Write-in 185 .28%

Ward 5

Richard Fimbres 39,601 59.70%
Mike Polak 26,576 40.07%
Write-in 155 .23%

Ward 6

Steve Kozachik 47,195 92.47%
Write-in 3,841 7.53%

Tucson voter registration

Ward Dem Rep Lbt Grn Ael Other Total
1 18,783 4,892 291 207 3 11,042 35,218
2 17,027 16,746 376 131 6 14,428 48,714
3 14,802 6,550 379 358 4 11,249 33,342
4 13,339 14,347 320 95 6 13,878 41,985
5 14,862 3,528 242 116 3 9,757 28,508
6 17,891 7,658 422 408 2 12,355 38,736

Voter turnout

Ward 12 3 4 5 6 Party total
Dem 5,500
29%
7.436
44%
4,972
34%
4,677
35%
3,699
25%
7,150
40%
33,434
35%
Rep 1,516
31%
7,552
45%
2,281
35%
5,311
37%
1,037
29%
2,856
37%
20,553
38%
Lbt 41
14%
78
21%
61
16%
62
20%
25
11%
79
19%
346
17%
Other 1,556
25%
3,727
26%
2,171
19%
2,898
21%
1,123
11%
2,619
21%
14,094
19%
Totals 8,613
25%
18,793
39%
9,485
29%
12,948
31%
5,884
21%
12,704
33%
68,427 30%

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