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ELECTION MONTH IS HERE!

Feel free to cast those primary ballots anytime now; early voting for the Sept. 2 primary begins Thursday, July 31.

Thanks to the permanent early-voter list created by Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, more than 105,000 ballots are going into the mail this week, with more to come.

We'd advise you to wait a couple of weeks for our upcoming endorsement package, but if you're really eager to cast a ballot, be sure to swing by our new political site, ScrambleWatch.com, to find out more about the candidates.

If you want to vote but haven't yet registered, the clock is ticking. You have until Monday, Aug. 4.


A BIT OF BACK-PEDALING

A few weeks back, Democrat Donna Branch-Gilby told the Weekly that she thought someone else was going to take on Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, and she stepped in to run when that didn't happen. (See "Electoral Difficulties, July 10.) "I kept thinking, 'Oh, someone will run (against Bronson). They'll find someone in the party. (Pima County Democratic Party Chairman) Vince Rabago has his ears open. (Attorney) Bill Risner is talking to lots of people. I'm sure they'll find somebody,'" Branch-Gilby said. A concerned Rabago soon contacted us to insist that he had never recruited anyone to run against Bronson. He also posted a statement on the Democratic Party's Web site making it clear that he remains neutral in all Democratic primary races.

We hear one reason Rabago was eager to set the record straight was that at least one lawyer who writes big checks to the party was a little concerned to hear that the chairman was recruiting candidates to run against incumbent Democrats.

Branch-Gilby's campaign manager, Bunny Davis, says it boils down to a minor case of semantics. The fact that Rabago "has his ears open" didn't mean he was out there actively recruiting Democrats to run against Bronson. Does that make sense in the context of the Branch-Gilby's statement? You tell us.

To further clarify, Branch-Gilby sent The Skinny a statement last week:

"In reviewing my words published in 'Electoral Difficulties,' I can see how my description of deciding to run might be misinterpreted," Branch-Gilby wrote. "I want to clearly state that at no time did County Democratic Party Chairman Vince Rabago speak to or 'recruit' me to run for Pima County Supervisor, District 3.

"In the context of discussing why I chose to run, my comment was meant to describe a practice that county chairs of political parties (employ) during the run-up to an election cycle: looking for candidates where no party candidate is currently running," Branch-Gilby continued. "Let me make it absolutely clear that I have never seen nor heard Chairman Rabago do anything to endorse or recruit any candidate, including me, in or for a primary that is contested."


LATIN SWING

Arizona Sen. John McCain got some bad news last week: Despite having a big Cinco de Mayo party this year and putting up a Spanish-language Web site, he's failing to win over the hearts and minds of Hispanic voters.

Latinos are breaking for Barack Obama in a big way. About two-thirds say they favor Obama, while less than one in four likes McCain, according to a June survey by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Given that states with big Hispanic populations--such as New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Nevada--will be swing states in November, the loss of Latino support could pose big problems for McCain.

McCain's problems reflect a larger problem for Republicans: Latino voters are embracing the Democratic Party. A growing number--65 percent--say they lean Democratic, while just 26 percent say they lean Republican.

"This 39 percentage-point Democratic Party identification edge is larger than it has been at any time this decade; as recently as 2006, the partisan gap was just 21 percentage points," the Pew study notes.

The growing spread comes despite efforts of Republican strategists to reach out to Latinos, who represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, accounting for 15 percent of the general population and 9 percent of the electorate, according to Pew.

But the GOP's pitch as the party that stands up for hard-working small-business types with solid family values has been thoroughly drowned out by activists on the right who have torpedoed recent efforts at immigration reform.

In the early years of this decade, Republicans were successful in attracting Latino voters. A Pew analysis shows that in 1999, Latinos were firmly in the Democratic camp, with 58 percent identifying with Democrats and just one in four identifying with Republicans--a difference of 33 percentage points. By 2004, when Bush won an estimated 40 to 44 percent of the Latino vote in his re-election campaign (a high-water mark for a GOP presidential candidate), the gap had narrowed to 28 percentage points. In July 2006, the gap had closed to 21 percentage points, with less than half of Latinos identifying with the Democratic Party.

The Pew study included more bad news for Republicans: 55 percent of Latino voters say Democrats have more concern for their ethnic group, while just 6 percent say that Republicans do.

Why are Latinos disenchanted with the GOP? One major issue: immigration. When the U.S. Senate tried to enact comprehensive immigration reform last year, the deal was scuttled by fiery opposition from a conservative Republican base upset by the idea of a path to normalization for undocumented workers.

While the GOP base may decry "amnesty" proposals, Latinos have a vastly different view. The National Latino Survey, an in-depth poll of 8,600 Latinos taken in between November 2005 and August 2006, showed that more than 42 percent favored immediate legalization of undocumented immigrants now in the United States, while more than 31 percent supported a guest-worker program leading to legalization. Only 5 percent supported an effort to seal the border.

Until last year, McCain held a fairly liberal position on illegal immigration, going so far as to sponsor a comprehensive reform plan with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2005 that included a path to citizenship for workers who had entered the United States illegally. But as he moved rightward to court conservatives in his pursuit of the White House, McCain was absent from last summer's immigration-reform talks and has since insisted that the border must be secured--whatever that means--before Congress can resolve the question of what should happen to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

John Garcia, a professor of political science at the UA, says McCain has another major liability: His support for the Iraq war. Pew released a study in early 2007 that showed that two-thirds of Latinos believed U.S. troops should return from Iraq as soon as possible. That was a significantly higher percentage than the 50 percent of the general population who said they wanted troops withdrawn as soon as possible in a separate Pew study done at the same time.


SEE THE CANDIDATES

KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated continues to bring you debates featuring candidates in this year's primary. You can catch Republicans Joe Sweeney and Gene Chewning, who are fighting for the chance to serve as the sacrificial lamb to Congressman Raúl Grijalva in November, on Monday, Aug. 4. Your moderators will be Arizona Illustrated anchor Bill Buckmaster and Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel. The show airs at 6:30 p.m. and repeats at 12:30 and 5:30 a.m. the following day.

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