Arizona: Obama's curse?

  • David Fitzsimmons,

Is President Obama to blame for the Democrats' troubles? In the West as a whole, maybe. In Arizona? Definitely. When Obama picked Arizona Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano to run his Homeland Security Department, he inadvertently surrendered the state to an ultra-conservative agenda. The Republican Legislature forged ahead with bills closing state parks and selling off government buildings to appease the state's ballooning deficit without raising taxes much. It passed laws making the state one of the most permissive on handguns and harshest on immigration. And the new Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed them all.

In most states, such an ideological push -- from either side -- would meet with electoral backlash. In most states, the dismal economy -- Arizona has been battered by the housing bust and has the second-highest poverty rate in the U.S. -- would encourage voters to sweep all incumbents of every party out of office. Not in Arizona. On Nov. 3, Republicans will maintain control of the Legislature, Brewer will probably be re-elected and John McCain will still be the state's senior U.S. senator.

The only incumbents in any real danger are two Democratic members of Congress, Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Gabrielle Giffords. Kirkpatrick, a freshman, represents Flagstaff and most of the Navajo Nation. She demonstrated her independence by sponsoring controversial land-swap legislation that would open the way for a huge copper mine near Superior, despite opposition from Rep. Raul Grijalva, a progressive favorite. Paul Gosar, a dentist and a hard-liner endorsed by Sarah Palin and grandstanding Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is challenging Kirkpatrick.

As for Giffords, during her two terms, she has taken a centrist approach. She's also endeared herself to greens by sponsoring legislation to withdraw land from mining and to reform the 1872 Mining Law, receiving a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters. She's neck-and-neck with Jesse Kelly, who's endorsed by anti-immigration champion Tom Tancredo, Arpaio and other hard-rightists.

Big picture The Tea Party hasn't shaken up politics in Arizona like it has elsewhere, perhaps because Arizona's mainstream politics already resemble those of the Tea Party.

Best sleeper race Chris Deschene, a Navajo, is the Democratic candidate for secretary of State. He's got experience in the Legislature; he's a graduate of the Naval Academy and served 10 years in the Marines; he's also an engineer and a lawyer. If he beats Republican Ken Bennett in the general election, he'll be positioned for a future run for governor.

Best so there! Republican Ben Quayle -- whose father, Dan, was vice president under the first President Bush -- overcame a Tea Party candidate, along with revelations that he once blogged for a raunchy website, to win the primary. He's facing conservative ("Border security!") Democrat Jon Hulburd in a close race for a House seat. Quayle called Obama the worst president ever; Hulburd responded by saying he could think of a few who were worse.

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