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The Arizona Republic

Hispanic candidates could help Dems win 4 seats in Congress


The Arizona Republic

Suddenly, Arizona Democrats see their best opportunity in 10 years to win half of the state’s eight congressional seats.

Moreover, the party would do it with four Hispanics chosen in Tuesday’s primary election, reflecting the influence of an increasingly minority-based electorate.

Republicans, however, are confident that it simply won’t happen, GOP state Chairman Bob Fannin said last week. Their national party is prepared to help “in a very substantial way” to win six seats, he said.

Because of Democrats’ dominance of registration in two districts, the party feels confident that 4th Congressional District incumbent Ed Pastor of Phoenix, the state’s only Democrat and first Hispanic in Congress, will be joined in Washington, D.C., by Raul Grijalva, a longtime Pima County supervisor who handily disposed of seven other candidates in the newly created 7th Congressional District.

Pastor will face a Republican community activist, Jonathan Barnert, while Grijalva will be matched against former Yuma City Councilman Ross Hieb and Libertarian John Nemeth in November.

Democrats also were buoyed by Republicans’ unexpected nomination Tuesday of former state lawmaker Trent Franks in the northwestern 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Glendale to the state line and swings east to take in the Hopi Reservation.

Franks’ right-wing record will make Democrat newcomer Randy Camacho much more attractive to moderates and independents in the heavily Republican district, Democrat officials reasoned.

One major difference is Camacho’s abortion-rights stance, in contrast to Franks’ staunch opposition to abortion.

Nationally, the Democrats’ only target in Arizona for a major battle had been the new rural 1st Congressional District, where the party stands a chance of picking up one of five seats needed to win control of the House.

Now, like the Republicans, they’re taking a close look at the 2nd District, too, said Jim Pederson, state party chairman.

Both party leaders said they were steeped in strategy sessions last week. Not since 1992 have the Democrats held more than one of the state’s congressional seats, which totaled six at that time. The 3-3 split lasted for only one two-year term.

Tuesday’s primaries in both parties came down to the wire in the 1st District, one of two added this year because of population gains.

Payson businessman George Cordova defeated six other Democrats for the nomination and will face the GOP’s Rick Renzi of Flagstaff, an insurance company owner who topped five rivals. Libertarian Edwin Porr also won a spot on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Democrats haven’t written off races against four GOP incumbents but recognize the challengers face long odds. Mary Judge Ryan, the chief deputy Pima County attorney, is trying to end Jim Kolbe’s long career representing much of southern Arizona in Congress. Party officials also say Craig Columbus, Charles Hill and Deborah Thomas will find it hard to upset, respectively, J.D. Hayworth, Shadegg and Jeff Flake.

Libertarians Mark Yannone and Joe Duarte also will face Shadegg and Kolbe, respectively.

Of the overnight emergence of four Hispanic candidates, Pederson said, “We need to fix the political mechanics of this state in terms of bringing our officeholders more in line with the diversity of their constituency.”

He and other Democrats said the Latinos’ candidacies likely will stimulate stronger participation by that ethnic group, which now makes up one-fourth of the state’s population. Other minority groups account for another 11 percent.

Fannin said he didn’t know whether the Hispanic factor will make any difference to the GOP’s success. He said Franks’ message will resonate with even conservative Democrats in a district where the GOP holds a registration advantage of nearly 5-3.

Owner of an oil-exploration firm, Franks labels himself a Ronald Reagan Republican. He credited his victory to legions of “salt of the earth” volunteers in a grass-roots campaign supplemented mostly by mailings.

Franks was elected to one term in the state House in 1984, was defeated two years later and was appointed by then-Gov. Evan Mecham to be the state’s advocate for children. He ran for Congress in 1994 and was defeated by John Shadegg in a sometimes hostile campaign.

Camacho, an up-by-the-bootstraps moderate who teaches civics at Westview High School in Avondale, has not been a party activist but certainly has the party’s attention now, Pederson said.

“We’re going to be seeing a lot of him” before Nov. 5, he said. “Originally, we didn’t think we stood a chance of beating the Republicans’ (registration) numbers.”

Camacho’s campaign has focused on education and illegal-immigration issues while Franks has emphasized national security and economic recovery.

The Republican race was prompted by the surprise announcement that GOP Rep. Bob Stump would retire. Lisa Atkins, Stump’s longtime chief of staff, and Peoria Mayor John Keegan split the moderate vote while Franks outdistanced state Sen. Scott Bundgaard on the conservative side. Libertarian Edward Carlson also will be on the 2nd District ballot.

Cordova’s victory in the sprawling 1st District surprised many, but was based on effective grass-roots campaigning that targeted the Navajo Nation in the north and Hispanic communities in the south. He especially showed strength in the mining towns of Pinal and Gila counties. He won Pinal County by more than 1,000 votes.

Cordova, who started running 18 months ago, long before the district boundaries were set, also received a huge boost in late July when the Navajo Nation moved its primary to Tuesday from early August. Cordova finished nearly 1,000 votes ahead of Steve Udall in Apache County, where Udall had been county attorney for more than 20 years. Cordova also won in Navajo County, which borders Apache County.

“I give him (Cordova) credit for running a masterful campaign,” said Kurt Davis, former head of the state Republican Party. “He had a plan, and he stayed on message throughout.”

On the Republican side, Renzi rode the coattails of a massive, six-month media blitz, in which he spent more than $500,000 of his own money. But it raised the name identification of the insurance executive and former Northern Arizona University football player, who hadn’t lived in the district for almost 20 years.

“All the indicators were that we did well in the early balloting in Coconino and Yavapai counties, and that set the tone,” said Joe Galli, a Renzi spokesman.

Renzi also won because votes from members of the highly influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended up being split between former Navajo County Supervisor Lewis Tenney and attorney Bruce Whiting.

Tenney, who estimated that he needed at least 75 percent of that vote to win, finished second, but Whiting drew many votes from the LDS sector in Coconino and Gila counties.

GOP observers said former Sedona Mayor Alan Everett also drew votes away from Tenney in Yavapai County. Davis said the contest between Renzi and Cordova is “now a race to see who can claim the center-right.” A total of 8,500 more Democrats than Republicans cast ballots in their 1st District primaries. Democrats have an 8 percent advantage in voter registration.

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