When Republican Greg Krino, a former Air Force fighter pilot and first-time political candidate, withdrew his House of Representatives bid in Legislative District 28 and entered the Senate race as a write-in candidate, political junkies lifted an eyebrow.
Republican candidates don't normally have much of a chance in the midtown Tucson district—which is home to about 36,000 Democrats, 22,000 Republicans and 24,000 others spread out across the political spectrum—but some think there's a chance Krino could sneak in to office this year.
"The stars are aligned in District 28," says Bob Westerman, the chairman of the Pima County Republican Party.
A pair of independent candidates—former Green Party candidate Dave Ewoldt and former Democratic lawmaker Ted Downing—have stepped up to challenge Democratic Sen. Paula Aboud, who has represented the district since being appointed to fill Gabrielle Giffords' seat after she resigned to run for Congress in 2006.
Both independents lean left, and Republicans are hoping they will draw enough Democratic votes to allow Krino to win a plurality.
"We saw the two independents running for the office, and the general feeling is they would draw votes (from Aboud). ... If you had to put a scenario together where we had an opportunity to upset that election, I think it's in place," Westerman says.
While Democrats expect Ewoldt to take some of their votes, they look at Downing as the real spoiler.
Downing served the district in the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2006, when he lost the Senate Democratic primary to Aboud by less than 1,500 votes. By running as an independent this year, Downing avoided having to face Aboud in a primary (which would most likely be decided by party loyalists), and he is able to draw attention to his "post-party" platform.
Downing wants to eliminate partisan primaries, as Californians recently voted to do, and institute a wide-open primary, where the two highest vote-getters go on to the general election regardless of party affiliation. The plan has vast support from Arizona voters, according to a recent Morrison Institute poll.
He also wants to "fire half the Legislature" and turn to a unicameral system. These moves would cut down on the partisan bickering that has plagued the Legislature and devastated the state, he says.
"Tucson is receiving collateral damage from the partisan fighting, and it doesn't help the people of Tucson at all," says Downing.
While his ideas might sound good to some Arizonans who see the lawmaking body as totally dysfunctional, they haven't gained much traction with his former colleagues in the Democratic Party.
Aboud and Downing live only a few blocks apart and met while working in neighborhood politics. Still, Aboud says that she had reservations about voting for him during his first bid for the Legislature back in 2000.
"That's me—a pretty level-headed person—looking at a guy who I've been working with for a few years, and he was crazy to me," Aboud says.
Aboud says Downing is running as an independent because he doesn't have Democratic support.
"If people won't sign your petition, and people won't give you $5, and people won't contribute to your campaign—hello? What's missing here?" says Aboud.
Even Ewoldt—Downing's fellow independent, who ditched the Green Party label in an effort to pick up support from environmentally minded folks across the political spectrum—is taking shots at Downing, saying, "Ted's going to have a hard time convincing people he's independent. He's one of the good old boys of the core Democrats in town."
Aboud admits that the two independents could capture enough votes to open the door for Krino, but she says that's not likely to happen.
Downing says such an occurrence is nearly impossible—he compares Krino's run to Luke Skywalker's shot that took down the Death Star—and says the race is really between him and Aboud.
Krino thinks otherwise, and says his moderate stances on social issues like gay marriage and medical marijuana, combined with his conservative stances on fiscal issues during this Great Recession, will earn him support from Democrats and independents alike.
"I've got a free-market mentality, and my focus has always been on the economy," he says. "Some of the more divisive issues—you know, I've got positions on those issues, but they're not at the top of my list. (My emphasis has) always been improving the economy, bringing jobs to Arizona and simplifying the tax code—and all these things help everybody."
Downing claims SB 1070's main sponsor, Sen. Russell Pearce, got Krino into the race to keep a victorious Downing from potentially joining Republican ranks and voting against Pearce as Senate president next year. Krino says Pearce never asked him to get into the race, and he's not sure who he would vote for to become Senate president.
Pearce aside, Downing says he's not the Democrats' spoiler; instead, he maintains, he's the future. Studies show Arizona voters have been leaving the two parties since the 1970s, he says, and it's about time they had someone who represents them.
"(The political parties) don't know how to deal with a viable nonpartisan candidacy like mine," Downing says. "It conceptually baffles them. But they're going to have to get used toit, because the demographics of the state are such that there will be more Ted Downings appearing."