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ROCKY REPUBLICANS

Now here's a strange poll from last week: Purple Strategies reported that President Barack Obama was trailing Mitt Romney by just 3 percentage points in Arizona.

Other surveys of Arizona have shown Romney with a much-bigger lead, so this particular survey—which had Romney at 48 percent, and Obama at 45 percent—may be an outlier or reflect a lousy sample. But it was taken in the wake of the revelations that Romney had dismissed 47 percent of the voters as people he could "never convince ... that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives" (see "Playing the Percentages"), so perhaps independents are souring on the GOP brand in Arizona, just as they appear to be souring on the Republican ticket in the swing states.

Nonetheless, we remain skeptical that Arizona is in play, even if we do agree with Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan's assessment that Romney's campaign has become a "rolling calamity."

Romney's off-course campaign presents a problem for the down-ticket races in Arizona. We're hearing chatter from Democrats that they're delighted with the polling numbers they're seeing in legislative races (although we've heard that story before). And we can see GOP candidate Martha McSally, who is trying to unseat Congressman Ron Barber, attempting to distance herself from Team Romney.

Then again, it's not as if the Washington, D.C., Republicans have invested much in McSally, at least as of press time. Last week, National Republican Congressional Committee officials announced they'd be spending $900,000 to help out GOP candidate Vernon Parker in the Maricopa County-area 9th Congressional District, and the NRCC has already been spending in the 1st Congressional District to help out former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton in his race against Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. We've yet to see a similar investment in McSally's race, which tells us that polling isn't showing a very competitive environment.


FIGHT FOR THE FOOTHILLS

Democrat Nancy Young Wright, a former state lawmaker and Amphitheater school-board member who is facing Republican Ally Miller in the race to replace Ann Day on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, has filed a complaint about the independent campaigns that are supporting Miller.

Wright's call for an investigation into Miller's campaign dollars follows a similar charge by two of the Republicans who lost to Miller in the August primary. Both Mike Hellon (a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party who knows a thing or two about campaign law) and Stuart McDaniel have called on the county to look into whether Miller's campaign coordinated with independent-expenditure committees that helped build her name ID during the primary race.

The common link was TagLine Media, a PR firm that was representing Miller and is now representing a variety of independent efforts to unseat the incumbents on the board—including the latest one, Restoring Pride in Pima County, a subsidiary of Arizonans for a Brighter Future, a nonprofit business league whose funding source remains a mystery.

As our deadline was closing in, we got a look at what Restoring Pride in Pima County has been up to: a goofy video called "The Pima Bunch" that—well, it's difficult to describe, but we've got it posted on The Range, our daily dispatch, so you can watch it there.

Anyway, Miller refuses to discuss the charges of illegal coordination with the Tucson Weekly (she's had her knickers in a twist ever since we reported that she had a bunch of facts wrong about the county budget), but TagLine honcho Deb Weisel has denied any wrongdoing. Weisel said she cut ties with Miller—as well as board candidates Sean Collins (who lost to Republican Ray Carroll in the GOP primary), Tanner Bell and Fernando Gonzales—before she began working for the independent committees.

Wright has expanded on the earlier GOP complaints and included a charge that Miller improperly included a TV ad produced by an independent committee on her campaign website.

We don't know if the complaints are going anywhere, but Miller does have a problem: She's a far-right Tea Party organizer who is now trying to reinvent herself in hopes of winning over moderate Republicans and independents.

Miller needs to move to the center; if you take a look at the results from the August primary, you can practically see two districts: Miller won in Oro Valley and Marana, but Hellon beat Miller throughout the Catalina foothills.

Those moderate foothills Republicans may not be that fond of Miller's fevered politics, but whether they can be persuaded to vote for a Democrat remains to be seen.

Wright is trying to find ways to win them over; last week, she announced that she had the endorsement of Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor and Clinton administration secretary of the Interior Department.

"The Pima County Board of Supervisors deals with complex matters," Babbitt said in a statement. "They must strive to balance economic development, water and land-use issues, and infrastructure development with other factors such as the community's historical, cultural and recreational needs. I'm endorsing Nancy because of her solid history of advocacy for sensible, sustainable land-use planning and her proven dedication to the residents of northwest Pima County."

Earlier this week, Wright picked up another endorsement: CC Goldwater, the grand-daughter of legendary U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, announced she was supporting Wright as well.

"I'm endorsing Nancy because she has a proven ability to work with people of all backgrounds to help her constituents," said Goldwater in a statement. "Like my grandfather, she is willing to roll up her sleeves, reach across the aisle and get the important work done that Pima County needs."

Meanwhile, Miller has picked up some endorsements of her own: She's the pick of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Marana Mayor Ed Honea.


SPEAKING OF VOTES IN THE CATALINA FOOTHILLS ...

One of the more-competitive legislative districts in the state is LD 9, which includes central Tucson north of Speedway Boulevard, the Catalina foothills and the Casas Adobes area.

Roughly 37 percent of the voters in the district are Democrats, while 33 percent are Republicans, and 30 percent identify as independents.

In the LD 9 House race, Republican Ethan Orr is facing two Democrats, Victoria Steele and Mohur Sidhwa, in the race for two House seats.

You can catch all three candidates in a televised forum this week on Arizona Illustrated's Political Roundtable, which airs this Friday, Sept. 28, on KUAT Channel 6. A few key takeaways:

• The candidates split on Proposition 204, which would continue the state's temporary one-cent sales tax. Four out of every five dollars from the tax would be directed toward education, while 20 percent would go to transportation projects.

Both of the Democrats back the measure, but Orr is concerned that the burden of the sales tax would be felt most by lower-income Arizonans, and that the money is dedicated to education and transportation funding, thus tying the hands of lawmakers.

• Both of the Democrats support abortion rights, while Orr identifies as pro-life, although he says he doesn't support a bill passed last year that targeted funding for Planned Parenthood.

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