Two years ago, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords beat hard-core conservative Randy Graf by 12 percentage points to win a congressional seat. Last week, she beat a more moderate, better-funded Tim Bee by 12 percentage points. Why didn't Bee do better?
Much of it had to do with the national mood, which was hardly favorable to Republicans--although that was certainly true in 2006, too. Bee was probably never going to win the race, but he could have had a better showing if his campaign had been less amateurish and paranoid. Bee himself isn't comfortable in the spotlight, and his press guy, Tom Dunn, was frequently unresponsive, so the race got little attention in the media, which in turn made it appear as though Giffords wasn't even being challenged. Putting Bee inside a Sarah Palin bubble wasn't the best strategy, especially since Bee was no Sarah Palin on the stump.
Giffords has been a smart freshman, keeping a high profile in the district, maintaining a centrist voting record and breaking all sorts of fundraising records for Southern Arizona. Expect more of that over the next two years.
What kind of a challenge will Giffords face in 2010?
As a Democrat serving in a GOP-leaning district, Giffords will always be vulnerable. Much will depend on the national mood; if the next two years are disastrous, then she could be in real trouble. But she has roughly $700,000 left in her campaign bank account, which is a pretty good start on that 2010 fundraising.
The bigger question: What will the district look like in 2012, after redistricting?
How did the Democrats fare in congressional races elsewhere in the state?
Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick beat Republican Sydney Hay in District 1, leaving the Democrats with five of the state's eight congressional districts--a big jump from having just two in the state at the start of 2006.
How'd that Democratic plan to win the Arizona House of Representatives go?
Not so well. After spending more than a million bucks on independent expenditures, Democrats got their asses handed to them. Instead of reaching their goal of flipping four seats in their direction in the House of Representatives, they gave up two seats to the GOP, which now has 35 seats to the Democrats' 25.
Here in Southern Arizona, the Democrats' most embarrassing loss was in District 25, which includes Marana, Sierra Vista and a big chunk of rural Southern Arizona. Democrats thought they had an easy win in the Democratic-leaning district after the retirement of centrist Republican Jennifer Burns, but Republican David Stevens, who had been working in Kuwait rather than campaigning in Arizona, nudged out Democrat Richard Boyer by about 600 votes--as of press time--for the second seat. (Democrat Pat Fleming won the first seat.)
In District 30, which includes Tucson's eastside, Green Valley and Sierra Vista, Democrat Andrea Dalessandro got blown out by Republicans David Gowan and Frank Antenori. Antenori, one of the few Republicans who was not using Clean Elections, prevailed even though he was the target of several hit pieces sent out by a Democrat-backed independent campaign committee.
Democrats had also hoped to grab a second seat in GOP-leaning District 26, which runs from the Catalina Foothills to SaddleBrooke. But in a tight race, voters split their votes between Democrat Nancy Young Wright and Republican Vic Williams.
In the District 26 Senate race, Republican Al Melvin, who lost the general election in 2006 by 455 votes, prevailed over Democrat Cheryl Cage by more than 1,300 votes as of press time.
What does that mean for the Legislature?
Arizona is the Bizarro World version of the United States: It's tilting to the right. In Southern Arizona, we've traded moderate Republicans Bee, Pete Hershberger and Burns for Melvin, Antenori and Gowan.
The new lawmakers already met last week to determine their new leadership. Replacing Bee as Senate president is Bob Burns of Peoria, who is far more conservative than Bee. On the Democratic side, Jorge Luis Garcia of Tucson is replacing Marsha Arzberger of Willcox as the minority leader.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Kirk Adams of Mesa managed to depose Rep. Jim Weiers of Tempe as speaker of the House. Like Weiers, Adams is a conservative, but he thinks much more strategically than the outgoing speaker, who, in the words of one Republican colleague, "wakes up every morning trying to figure out how to embarrass Gov. Janet Napolitano."
Meanwhile, House minority leader Phil Lopes and his leadership team has been deposed by new Minority Leader David Lujan, Assistant Leader Kyrsten Sinema and Minority Whip Chad Campbell, who all represent central Phoenix. (One Southern Arizona Democrat notes that they all share the same Starbucks.) How responsive will they be to Southern Arizona? Wait and see.
What does all that mean for Napolitano?
It means she's much less likely to find Republicans who will be willing to cross over to support a Democratic budget, as she did this year. At a time when the state is facing a staggering shortfall of more than a billion dollars in the current fiscal year--and with economic troubles probably stretching into the next fiscal year--the news is not looking good for universities, transportation departments and other areas where the state can trim spending.
So will Napolitano stick around or take a job in the Obama administration, leaving us with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer?
Your guess is as good as ours.