WITH LESS THAN seven weeks before the November 7 general election, there's not much time for dust to settle following the September 12 primary election.
Although turn-out varied depending on the race, about 28 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of Republicans voted countywide. The number of people voting before Election Day continued to climb; among voters, 27 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans cast early ballots.
Turnout peaked among the major parties at almost 34 percent in the Democratic primary in District 13, where three Democrats were fighting hard for two state House seats. (A fourth candidate, Colette Barajas, dropped out of the race a week before the primary.) The winners, Gabrielle Giffords (55 percent) and Ted Downing (50 percent), will now face the Republican slate of Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers, who ran unopposed for their two nominations.
Republicans in District 13, which includes north central Tucson and the Catalina Foothills, also pushed their people to the polls, with turnout nearly reaching 32 percent, even without other major fights on the ballot. Republicans in that area also whipped the Democrats in early voting; 3,970 Republicans cast an early ballot (47 percent), as opposed to 2,160 Democrats (25 percent).
Both parties are working District 13, primarily because the even voter registration between Democrats and Republicans makes it a swing district. The House incumbents, Republican Kathleen Dunbar and Democrat Andy Nichols, are facing each other for the open Senate seat being surrendered by Democrat George Cunningham, who is taking on Congressman Jim Kolbe in November. Both state and national parties are keenly interested in the outcome in District 13, because it could help swing the balance in the state Senate, which is currently 16-14 in the GOP's favor. The Republicans' strong primary showing, particularly in early voting, shows they may have a jump on the organization front.
The biggest surprise on election night was in District 9, where Tim Bee defeated Rep. Bill McGibbon in the race to replace Bee's brother, retiring state Sen. Keith Bee.
McGibbon had a lot going for him. He's represented the district, which includes eastern Tucson, Green Valley and Sierra Vista, since 1992. He raised nearly $50,000 and spent more than $30,000 on the campaign. Tim Bee, by contrast, had barely raised less than $4,500 by the beginning of September and, in the words on one Republican in McGibbon's camp, "didn't do shit" in the way of campaigning.
McGibbon's defeat was a major disappointment for Democrat Kathy Ramage-White, who easily defeated two Democrats to win the nomination to run against Bee. She had hoped to face McGibbon, whose ultra-conservative record would have made him an easier target than Bee, who has no record at all. Democrats had targeted District 9 in their statewide strategy to retake the state Senate. Bee's win moves those goalposts back.
Democrats are also hoping to pull off an upset in District 12, where Republican Toni Hellon bested Scott Alexander in the GOP primary. Hellon will now face physician Mark Osterloh, who helped pass the Clean Elections proposition that set up public financing for state campaigns two years ago. Osterloh is already pounding the campaign finance issue on his signs, which proclaim "No Favors Owed!" Given his strategy, he couldn't have a better opponent than Hellon, a former party chairwoman whose rolodex has kept her at the front of the fundraising pack in Southern Arizona, with more than $50,000 in contributions. But Osterloh's gamble depends on the issue resonating with voters in northwestern Tucson and Oro Valley.
In centrally located District 14, Democrats Marion Pickens and Demitri Downing (son of Ted Downing) will face Republican Ed Poelstra and Green candidate Mary "Katie" Bolger in the race for two House seats. As an incumbent running in a district where nearly 45 percent of the voters are registered Democrats and roughly 37 percent are Republicans, Pickens is virtually assured re-election, but Downing may be in some trouble. With the Democratic primary turnout hitting just above 28 percent, Downing ran about 20 points behind Pickens, getting less than 54 percent of the vote.
That means that Downing has a way to go to solidify his base, which could swing to the Green candidate. Bolger, who has qualified for $25,000 in campaign funds under the state's Clean Elections program, will have enough money to run a strong campaign, which is being managed by Carolyn Campbell, chair of the local Green Party. Campbell has strong connections in the community. She's also heading up the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, a group of environmental organizations working with the county on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Downing isn't helped by his sidestepping of major issues on the November ballot. In a recent conversation, Downing hadn't taken a stand on the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, although he said that "as a lawyer," he was leaning against supporting the proposal. He also hadn't yet taken a position on Prop 100, a portion of the legislature's Growing Smarter package that would set aside a paltry 3 percent of state land for conservation. Downing said he was leaning toward supporting the measure, although he was unaware that 70 conservation groups, including the Nature Conservancy and the Sonoran Institute, opposed it.
Although Bolger's unlikely to win, a strong showing could eat into Downing's weak support among District 14 Democrats, allowing Republican Poelstra to slip past him.
BOLGER ISN'T THE only Green to qualify for public funds under the Clean Election program. Two other local Greens running for the House of Representatives, Jack Strasburg in District 10 and Bill Moeller in District 11, have also collected at least 200 $5 contributions to become eligible for up to $25,000 in campaign funds.
Campbell says the money, combined with some contributions from the county Green Party and the Nader campaign, will allow the Greens to set up a modest office at 2532 E. Broadway.
If you're interested in meeting Green Party candidates, they'll be having an open house, with food and drink, at the new campaign headquarters from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 22.