One of the most closely watched and hotly contested primary races in Arizona this year features state Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, against Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler.
Those are the only two Senate candidates in District 20, which covers western Chandler, southern Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills.
Huppenthal has been elected to the Legislature or the Chandler City Council for 20 years and always has received the most votes when facing multiple opponents. Huppenthal said voters appreciate his philosophy of fiscal restraint and social conservatism.
But Mead upset an incumbent senator in 2002 who also reflected many of those same bedrock conservative values. While unknown in most Republican circles at the time, Mead had a strong following among parents and educators in the Kyrene Elementary School District where he is an outgoing board member.
This year’s campaign quickly turned personal as Huppenthal has accused Mead of misleading voters two years ago.
"He promised he would work for a balanced budget. That was a lie," Huppenthal said. "He promised he would protect people from higher taxes. That was a lie."
But Mead contends that Huppenthal ignores the top priority of district voters by rejecting more spending for education and voting against a plan to fund full-day kindergarten statewide. His supporters argue that he better represents their political beliefs.
"I also appreciate his moderate stance on other issues, like he supported the budget that the governor put forward and worked with her on that," said 40-year-old Chandler resident Lynn Demuth. "He’s a supporter of education issues. I appreciate his willingness to work on both sides and I don’t think that John Huppenthal does that very well at all."
However, Mead has become the top target of conservative GOP activists because his twoyear voting record has favored Democratic proposals over Republican leadership.
"Sen. Mead is more willing to expand the government budget," said Toni Monti, an Ahwatukee Foothills Republican voter. "I think Huppenthal is more of a stopgap to some of this budget hemorrhaging."
Like the 2002 campaign, Mead is actively pursuing independent voters who can request Republican primary ballots under state law.
"The whole of it is if you want to have a voice in this election, you have to vote in this primary," Mead recently told one independent while campaigning door-to-door in a south Tempe neighborhood.
But Huppenthal said he believes conservative Republicans will turn out in force to determine the winner.