Brace yourself, Tucson: The politicians are loose upon the land.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva is once again fighting for his political life. We've got a battle for control of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is up against five GOP challengers. Congressman Jeff Flake has to beat a wealthy upstart challenger before he can face Democrat Richard Carmona in what promises to be a bruising matchup for an open U.S. Senate seat. And no matter who wins the race between Republican Jesse Kelly and Democrat Ron Barber in next week's special congressional election, those candidates are promising to get right back on the campaign trail in an effort to win a full term.
Against the backdrop of a presidential election that will set Barack Obama against Mitt Romney, Election 2012 is officially underway.
Adding to the intrigue: scrambled political lines thanks to redistricting, which is creating competitive races in central Tucson for the Arizona Legislature.
Last week, candidates had to meet the deadline to file for state and local offices. We've rounded up most of the races we'll see in Southern Arizona, leaving out a few contests for constable and justice of the peace.
There's still more to come, including races for local school boards and campaigns for ballot propositions. (The deadlines for those candidates and petitions come later this summer.)
The Aug. 28 primary election is less than 12 weeks away. Let the games begin!
President of the United States
Democrats have spent the last few months selling the idea that Arizona might be in play in the presidential race. They point to a handful of polls showing a competitive race and hope that the recent actions of Gov. Jan Brewer and a conservative Arizona Legislature will trigger backlash among independent and Latino voters.
A series of polls early this year showed voters divided between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Two April surveys showed them knotted at about 40 percent each, and a February survey by Public Policy Polling showed them at 47 percent each.
But a more recent PPP poll, taken May 17-20, showed Romney with a 7 percentage-point lead, capturing 50 percent to Obama's 43 percent. The hurdles in front of the president are high: The same survey showed that only 41 percent of Arizona voters approved of Obama's job performance, and 46 percent had a favorable view of Mitt Romney, making Arizona one of the few states that PPP has polled where Romney's favorables exceed his unfavorables.
Congressman Jeff Flake, who has represented District 6 in Maricopa and Pinal counties since 2003, is hoping to land the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.
For most of his congressional career, Flake has been a small-government, free-market, Libertarian-oriented Republican. While he has voted along party lines for the most part, he's pushed for opening trade with Cuba, eschewed earmarks and supported the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Until he decided to seek the Senate seat, Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who supported comprehensive immigration reform that would allow illegal immigrants now in the United States to receive legal status as long as they paid a fine and passed a background check. Since announcing his campaign, Flake has publicly backed away from that position, saying the United States must do more to secure the border before any other steps are taken.
Flake finds himself facing a primary challenge from Wil Cardon, who is pouring millions of his own dollars into a campaign to portray himself as a successful businessman and Washington, D.C., outsider.
Cardon is seeing some return on that investment, although he has a long way to go. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted May 17-20 showed that Cardon had the support of 20 percent of Republicans, while Flake had the support of 42 percent. Still, that was a big step up for Cardon, given that he had the support of only 7 percent of the voters in a February PPP poll, and trailed Flake by 49 percentage points.
Two other little-known Republicans, Bryan Hackbarth and Clair Van Steenwyk, also registered to run in the primary.
The winner of the GOP primary will face a tough fight from Democrat Richard Carmona, who faces token opposition from Tucson physician David A. Ruben, a political newcomer who filed nominating petitions last week.
Carmona has an impressive résumé: His parents hailed from Puerto Rico, and he grew up in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx. After high school, he earned two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, where he served as a combat medic. After leaving the service, he became a trauma surgeon, joined the Pima County SWAT team, and served as one of President George W. Bush's surgeon generals, sometimes butting heads with administration officials when politics took precedence over science in health matters.
Libertarian Sheila Bilyeu has also filed to run.
Congressional District 1
Oro Valley and Marana are now part of Arizona's largest congressional district, which stretches from the north side of Pima County, around the eastern half of the state and then north to Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation.
It's a sprawling district with wildly different interest groups—SaddleBrooke's GOP retirees, Mormon cowboys, the Hopis and the Navajos, and Flagstaff's granola Democrats. The voter-registration numbers give Democrats a 9-point edge in CD 1, but many of those Democrats are conservative, rural voters, so it's a competitive district.
The Democratic primary is shaping up to be ugly. Ann Kirkpatrick, who served a large part of the new district for one term in Congress from 2009 to 2011 before losing to Tea Party GOP challenger Paul Gosar, is looking to make a comeback, but she's facing a fierce challenge from political newcomer Wenona Benally Baldenegro. A Harvard-educated attorney who would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress, Baldenegro is already complaining that she's being treated unfairly by the Arizona Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
On the Republican side, former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton is also looking to make a political comeback. Paton, who represented the east side of Tucson, Green Valley and Sierra Vista in the Arizona Legislature, lost a bid for Congress in 2010 to Jesse Kelly, who knocked him out in the GOP primary in CD 8.
Paton faces three GOP newcomers in the CD 1 race: Gaither Martin, who recently returned to Arizona after spending several years running a consulting business that helps investors and businesses set up shop in Iraq; Doug Wade, a contractor in Sedona; and Patrick Gatti, a small-government enthusiast from Show Low.
Libertarian Anthony Prowell has also filed to run in the district.
Congressional District 2
The fate of Congressional District 2 won't be fully clear until next week, when voters decide the June 12 special election between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly to complete Gabrielle Giffords' term.
The new CD 2 covers much of the same ground as the current Congressional District 8, but there have been some changes. Most dramatically, the new CD 2 will not include the GOP enclaves of Oro Valley, Marana and SaddleBrooke, which have shifted to Congressional District 1.
That means that the district will become more competitive. In CD 8, Republicans hold a 6-point voter-registration edge; in the new district, 34.7 percent of the voters are Republican, while 34.1 percent are Democrats, and 31.1 percent fall into the category of "other."
Both Kelly and Barber have said they intend to run in the new CD 2. On the GOP side, Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot who came in second in the April primary in the CD 8 special election, has filed to run in CD 2, but has said she'll drop out of the race if Kelly wins next week. Republican newcomer Mark Koskiniemi has also filed to run.
On the Democratic side, Barber will face Democrat Matt Heinz in the primary. Heinz, who is wrapping up his second term in the Arizona House of Representatives, said he'll stay in the race whether Barber wins or loses the CD 8 race next week.
Congressional District 3
Critics of Congressman Raúl Grijalva—and he's had his share over a long career that has included stints on the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson Unified School District governing board—have promised in each election cycle that voters would tire of the progressive Democrat.
Grijalva has consistently proved them wrong, climbing all the way to the U.S. House of Representatives a decade ago.
But last year, Grijalva faced one of his toughest races yet, against political neophyte Ruth McClung, who nearly knocked him out after he called for businesses to boycott Arizona in the wake of the passage of SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law.
This year, Grijalva is running in a district that remains a Democratic stronghold—43 percent of the voters are registered Democrats, and just 22 percent are Republicans.
He's facing two challengers in the Democratic primary: former state lawmaker Amanda Aguirre, who represented Yuma for eight years at the state Capitol; and Manny Arreguin, a Tucson physician who is making his first foray into politics.
Both Aguirre and Arreguin have complained that the Democratic Party is out to protect Grijalva by refusing to give them access to voter lists in the new district.
In the GOP primary, Republican activist Gabriela Saucedo Mercer is set to face Jaime Vasquez, a general contractor and owner of a steel-fabrication company.
Libertarian Blanca Guerra is also in the race.