Sandbox: Which primaries are worth paying attention to?
Going beyond the talking points
The Sandbox is a weekly back-and-forth between two local polticos: Democratic activist Ted Prezelski and Republican consultant Sam Stone. Not afraid to call things as they see 'em—even about their own parties—they'll kick some dirt around, mine for nuggets both golden and feline, and give Sentinel readers the story behind the stories.
What's hot... and what's not
Tedski: First off, thank you to Dylan Smith for inviting me to give a little bit of commentary on local politics. He may grow to regret giving me yet another place to sound off. Also, thank you to Sam Stone for agreeing to be my fencing partner here.
Our first topic is which of the primary elections we think are compelling.
Well, the most interesting one has fizzled over the last couple of weeks. That would be the Republican U.S. Senate primary between Prescott businessman Wil Cardon and U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake. Cardon's campaign denied that he was folding up shop when his television effort went dark at the beginning of the month, but it's hard to see any scenario where he takes Flake down at this point.
I don't see either of the primary efforts against our two incumbent Democratic congressmen here in Southern Arizona ending in anything but blown delusions for their challengers that mistook routine grousing for an actual opportunity.
One local race that has become interesting over the last couple of weeks is the Legislative District 3 race on the Democratic side. The race pits incumbent state Senator Olivia Cajero-Bedford against former Senator María García. It would have been interesting for local political junkies in any case, but recent moves in the race have made it even better.
Cajero-Bedford has been a favorite of many in the pro-choice activist community for a long time, and now she is running in a district that includes more South Side neighborhoods that were represented by decades by her father Bernardo "Nayo" Cajero and mother Carmen Cajero. García is the widow of Cajero-Bedford's predecessor, Jorge García, and qualifies as a predecessor herself since she was appointed to Jorge's unexpired term when he passed away suddenly in 2010.
Aside from a low-grade dynastic tussle, the race has become heated in recent weeks because of the amount of money that's been dumped into the race by a national organization. A pro-school voucher and pro-school privatization group called the American Federation for Children spent $19,342.50 on mailers on behalf of García as of the last report filed. Given that the group's other causes in Arizona have included supporting Russell Pearce during his recall election, it's made Democratic activists dubious of García, and the Internet has been abuzz with calls to support Cajero-Bedford.
I don't think even with the spending that Cajero-Bedford has much to worry about, she regularly out-polled her one-time seatmate, Democratic leader Phil Lopes, in primaries. Still, it'll make the race interesting to keep an eye on primary night.
I'll throw to Sam. I'm sure he has something to say about that District 4 supervisor race.
Sam: First, an admission. Yes, I threw Jesse Kelly and his team under the bus. It was wrong. I let my personal dislike of Team Kelly override my principles and common sense. People who can’t stand me because I passed information to Ron Barber about a fellow Republican, I get it: you have reason to hate me.
But, frankly, I wasn’t the most popular Republican politico in town before that happened. Mostly, I think, because I tend to be a rather cold-blooded strategist, and definitively not a cheerleader. Voters on both sides of the aisle tend to turn a blind eye to the faults of their candidates. I don’t.
In one sense, blind optimism is valuable… upsets do occur, often brought to fruition on little more than a wing and a prayer. But, it’s also foolish, because over and over again we pour resources into candidates who have absolutely zero chance of winning. With that in mind, and with a nod to the recently completed Summer Olympiad, I’ll present my Electoral Medals of Primary Futility.
Gold: Anyone running to unseat Raul Grijalva in CD3.
Sorry, Gabby Mercer, Amanda Aguirre et al. It just ain’t happening. The chances of a fellow Democrat unseating Raul Grijalva in the primary; in the words of social media: haha, lol, LMBO!!!! Aguirre may have some name ID (mostly in Yuma) and a track record, but that’s not going to even be close to enough to take out the last great Democratic political machine in Arizona.
Now the tough part for Republicans to take: Gabby Mercer. Last year, Grijalva showed a glimpse of his bigoted stripes when he said that he wasn’t worried about Mercer because Republicans would never nominate a Hispanic. He was wrong. Mercer is going to win the nomination in a walk. Grijalva still isn’t worried.
If there was one person in Arizona who had nothing to complain about from redistricting, it was Grijalva. Electorally, It’s almost impossible to overcome anything more than a 6 percent disadvantage in voter registration. Grijalva’s new district is more than 2 to 1 Democratic.
Still, optimism persists from 2010. Ruth McClung rode the wave of the greatest conservative election cycle since 1994 – and still lost. Grijalva was in the midst of defending his “boycott” of Arizona – and he still won.
And McClung was a better candidate than Mercer, hands down. She had the story: cute, 20-something, rocket scientist. That’s the kind of stuff media outlets live for. Throw in the fact that she was a disciplined, consistent candidate and a strong public speaker, and it’s easy to see why she was able to mount a real challenge.
Gabby Mercer is also a gifted speaker and, yes, she’s Hispanic, but… that’s about it. Hispanic women have run for office before. That’s not a story, certainly not on par with McClung’s narrative. And Mercer’s hardline conservative message isn’t going to inspire the same kind of crossover appeal that kept McClung in the game.
At some point, Raul Grijalva will retire and try to find some way to gift the seat to his daughter. Maybe she’ll be beatable, but her Papi sure as heck isn’t.
Silver: Sean Collins, Pima County Supervisor District 4
Without a Democratic general election challenger, whoever wins this election is in. So why is this the silver medal winner? They don’t call him “Sugar” Ray for nothing, folks. Incumbent Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll may have appeared beatable in the Rosemont Copper boardroom. On the ballot? Not so much.
Collins is a nice guy. Good resume of military service and business acumen. Seems like he would be a great candidate. But taking on a long-term incumbent isn’t easy, especially when you forget to do your homework. I wasn’t there, but by all accounts the debate between Carroll and Collins was a wipeout – Carroll repeatedly demonstrating his in-depth knowledge on a broad range of local issues, while Collins struggled even on his bread and butter pro-Rosemont message.
Further, building your campaign around a single issue (in this case Rosemont) is tough when that issue isn’t universally popular. Rosemont isn’t Obamacare circa 2010. The majority of voters in Pima County, including District 4, oppose the mine. Even among Republicans, it’s not a slam-dunk. Collins may have a political future, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in office eventually. But it’s not going to happen this time.
Bronze (tie): Matt Heinz and Mark Koskiniemi
Apparently, there are good reasons why Dr. Heinz is not a neurologist. This one should have been a no-brainer. Canvass the district for a couple of months, smile a lot, shake some hands, do some self-promotion and end up as Ron Barber’s heir apparent. Only at some point, Heinz deluded himself into thinking he was actually going to win.
Maybe he was fooled when Barber twice voted with the Republican majority in Congress. Maybe he’s just foolish. But all Barber did was vote for reelection. And Democrats in this town have shown they’re smart enough to give away a few of those votes every two years so their candidates can brag about how “moderate” and “bipartisan” they are. (How different, really, was Barber’s vote on border security vs. Gabby Giffords' bi-annual “I’m up for election, call in the National Guard cavalry."?)
But instead of just building some name-ID and lining himself up for a run in the future, Heinz decided to go on the warpath, launching arrows at Barber, and committing to a scorched earth policy in his wake. Ooops. Might want to re-think that one, Matt. Those fires burning behind you? That’s your political career.
As for Koskiniemi: I get it, Kelly people: you hate me. And, ergo, some of you have decided to hate Martha McSally. But choosing a fringe candidate who had his signatures gathered by Democratic Party operatives as your savoir? Really?
On the other hand, unlike Heinz, Koskiniemi seems to have understood from the start that he didn’t have a prayer in this one. He’s been careful and measured, if a bit stilted and unpolished, in his messaging. So Koskiniemi, at least, might have a chance to turn whatever name-ID he can generate from this run into a lower seat down the road.
Races aren't all about... race
Sam's insights into the congressional races are dead on, but I do want to take a little issue with one assertion. Grijalva's noting that the district's Republicans are reluctant to nominate a Hispanic is based on the track record in the district.
Admittedly, there aren't a lot of data points; only two Hispanic Republicans have tried to get the nomination over the last two decades. Both got crushed, the latest was Lou Muñoz back in 2004 who suffered a forty-point drubbing in 2004 to Joe Sweeney, of all people. When folks are more willing to vote for an unapologetically racist and unhinged Sweeney than a Hispanic candidate, it's head scratching at least.
I was interested in reading what Sam had to say about the Carroll-Collins race. I think Collins misunderstood the connections that Carroll had in the district. A Republican politico I know from way back used to tell me this about Jim Kolbe's popularity in the district: "He's like Jesus, where ever two are gathered, there he is." Carroll is much the same, he's always around and folks know him.
Whatever grousing there is about Carroll from the right, Collins had a lot more to break through than he could in the eight or nine months he's been campaigning.
As Sam noted, Collins tried to base his entire campaign around the Rosemont Mine, which brings me to something that I've noticed over the last six or eight weeks. There was talk that this campaign, particularly the races for supervisor, would be a "Referendum on Rosemont." No doubt there have been plenty of candidates who have made their support for the Rosemont Mine an important part of their campaigns (Collins, Amanda Aguirre, the entire Republican field in Supervisor District 1), the idea of a "referendum" seems to have fizzled.
Take a look at what's actually happened: aside from the Rosemont-inspired break-up between Raúl Grijalva and the United Steel Workers, there has been no grass-roots (or even astro-turf) uprising against anti-mine politicians. Remember talk about the possibility of hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent in an independent effort against anti-mine candidates? It looks like the only pro-Rosemont money being spent is by the company itself on not-quite-political political feel good ads.
Maybe it's that it turns out, as Sam said, the mine isn't that popular, and the candidates understand that. Fernando Gonzales, who is running with the backing of Rosemont-supporting organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has claimed to not know where he stands on the mine yet. If this Rosemont thing is a winner, the pro-Rosemont side isn't acting like it.
So, how goes that primary in District 1, Sam?
GOP Supes race a hard call
Sam: Tedski, I just don't know about that District 1 Supes race. Word through the grapevine is that state Rep. Vic Williams and Tucson Tea Party Patriots founder Ally Miller are duking it out for the top spot, with Mike Hellon and Stuart McDaniel fading, but anyone who tells you they know how this one is going to turn out is delusional.
On the Republican side, this is right up there with the Carroll/Collins throw-down for most interesting primary. Whoever wins will be taking on Nancy Young Wright in November. The Democrat has shown she can raise a LOT of money, but these local races often come down to who puts in more time on the streets.
So Ally Miller, much to widespread liberal dismay, may be in a better position for November than most pundits think, even though she doesn't have the ability to turn rich people upside down and shake them for campaign change the way some of the others do.
Frankly, Tedski, I think we've probably let our readers down with this one. Not enough blood. Maybe one of our readers will suggest a more contentious topic for next week. Or Todd Akin may open his mouth again. Either way.
Ted Prezelski writes about soccer for TucsonSentinel.com and has been active in local politics for years. Sam Stone is a consultant with Cain Consulting LLC, served as the spokesman for the Pima County Republican Party, and most recently worked for congressional candidate Martha McSally.