While voters have until Nov. 6 to decide who they’ll support for president and other high-profile elections, many of the East Valley’s biggest races will be settled in a little over a week.
The Aug. 28 primary will determine several contentious battles that include whether former state Senate President Russell Pearce will go back to the Legislature after losing a historic recall election last year.
Also, voters will decide whether former Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman will return to office after his defeat four years ago.
And the primary will settle the especially nasty U.S. Senate Republican race between Jeff Flake and Wil Cardon, while deciding which Republican and Democrat will face each other in the highly competitive fight over the new 9th Congressional District.
The Pearce re-election campaign is being watched closely by political observers because the former Mesa lawmaker was arguably the state’s most powerful politician until his removal in November 2011.
Pearce was endorsed by the state’s Republican establishment previously, but many of Mesa’s political and community leaders are now siding with SkyMall founder Bob Worsley in the primary election.
Pearce has a fiercely loyal following, especially among supporters of the anti-illegal immigration bill he authored, SB 1070. While the most conservative candidate virtually always wins in GOP primaries, this could prove an exception, said Bruce Merrill, a pollster and senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Worsley is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like Pearce. Worsley is very conservative despite having a more moderate approach to immigration, Merrill said.
Pearce’s recall defeat was in part a result of running in an election where Democrats and independent voters could participate. But Merrill said analysis of the turnout showed there is more to why political newcomer Jerry Lewis won by 12 points.
“A majority of Republicans voted for Jerry Lewis,” Merrill said. “I would be really surprised if Pearce wins.”
Merrill said Pearce has better odds if turnout is low because the most conservative voters show up to the polls in high numbers. The candidates are running in heavily Republican District 25 in east Mesa.
Voters on Aug. 28 also will decide the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl. U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and Mesa investor Wil Cardon have flooded the airwaves with attack ads and raised concerns among Republicans that the primary victor would be too damaged to beat Democratic opponent Richard Carmona.
Merrill said a similarly bloody GOP battle in 1976 allowed Democrat Dennis DeConcini to win a U.S. Senate race despite Republican voters outnumbering Democrats in Arizona.
But the odds of a repeat diminished recently with Cardon dropping most of his ads, Merrill said. The candidate likely evaluated polls showing he was never within 20 points of Flake, he said.
“That almost indicated your own campaign said, ‘Look, you can’t throw more money in this thing because you’re not going to win,’” Merrill said.
Regardless of the election, Merrill said some predictions are harder to make this year given the weak economy and unusually high levels of voter disgust.
Merrill expects incumbents will have yet another rough election cycle because voters typically oust incumbents during poor economic times like this. That will prove especially challenging for President Barack Obama.
However, Merrill said Obama’s campaign has doubled its social media ad budget from four years ago, to $400 million.
That can only go so far, Merrill said. The mudslinging in the presidential campaign is part of a politically nasty spell that Merrill said is turning off all kinds of voters.
“I have a lot of people tell me they are so disgusted with both sides that they’re not going to vote,” he said.
The Aug. 28 elections include several other notable contests:
Berman v. Lewis
The Gilbert mayor’s race is a rematch of the 2009 battle between then-Mayor Steve Berman and political newcomer John Lewis. Berman lost with 16 percent of the vote compared with Lewis’ 41 percent.
Lewis said he’s helped Gilbert become more open to business and that some companies that never would have considered the town in the past are now interested in the community.
Berman has said the town’s economic development record has slid considerably after he oversaw the building of several shopping centers, medical facilities and parks.
Crandall v. Fillmore
The GOP race for state Senate, District 16, between state Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa and Rep. John Fillmore of Apache Junction resulted in an ethics complaint being filed against Crandall. One of Crandall’s daughters was photographed by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson and a Fillmore supporter, taking down a Fillmore campaign sign. After the photos were posted on the Internet with nasty comments, Crandall left Barton a phone message saying he would use his position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to block any of her legislation that came his way. Barton then filed an ethics complaint against Crandall. Ultimately, the complaint was thrown out by Ethics Committee Chairwoman Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale.
Chucri v. Pearce
Longtime Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce — brother of Russell Pearce — is running to replace Don Stapley on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Lester is running in District 2 against Steve Chucri, the president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association. The winner of that GOP primary will go into the primary election against Democrat David Ortega, a former Scottsdale City Councilman.
9th Congressional District
The race where Democrats stand the best chance of winning in the East Valley in November is in the crowded race for the new 9th Congressional District. Democrats Andrei Cherny, David Schapira and Krysten Sinema have fought an often nasty primary so far. The tamer Republican primary includes Lisa Borowsky, Leah Campos Schandblauer, Travis Grantham, Vernon Parker, Wendy Rogers, Martin Sepulveda and Jeff Thompson.
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