Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday she's now ready to support having independents vote in the state's presidential preference election - a move she admitted would have given the candidate she backed a chance of actually winning the state.
One day after Arizona Republicans and Democrats went to the polls, the governor said she has had a change of heart.
"In my youth, I probably would have said, 'No, these are just for the political parties and if you want to vote in a primary you have to be in a political party,'" Napolitano said.
"As a matter of philosophy, I think the preference election should be open now," she said.
"We have so many independent voters," the governor said, referring to the fact that more than 25 percent of Arizonans registered to vote are not signed up with any of the three parties recognized by the state.
Many of them actually showed up at the polls on Tuesday, the governor said, "and were surprised to learn they couldn't pull a ballot."
Those independents, Napolitano said, were effectively shut out of the political discourse.
"It seems to me that what you want is people paying attention and voting," she said. "If you want that, then you should open up the primaries."
Independents are allowed to receive and vote the ballot of any political party in the regular September primaries. But the separate 1992 law establishing a presidential preference election did not carry such a provision.
Napolitano also believes it might have given Barack Obama, whom she backed in the race, a chance to actually win in Arizona. "I think the independents would have broken more for Obama."
The governor also was a bit circumspect on the question of what impact, if any, her endorsement of the Illinois senator had on the Arizona race.
On one hand, she said, polls before she made the endorsement last month indicated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had about a 20-point lead over Obama. The latest numbers show the New York senator's actual vote tally here at less than half that.
And given the way Democrats allocate delegates, that smaller gap between the two candidates means more Arizona national convention delegates for Obama.
Napolitano suggested much of Clinton's lead occurred among those who voted early. "We were not able to close that gap," she said.
Napolitano minimized any political fallout from fellow Democrats for herself over deciding to back Obama.
"A couple of them are not happy with me," she said. But the governor repeated her stance that she ultimately will support whomever is the Democrat nominee.
If the delegate count between Obama and Clinton remains close, that could make Napolitano's role at the national convention in Denver more important. That is because she will be one of the state's 11 "super delegates" not pledged to any candidate - and who could become brokers in deciding the Democratic nomination.
Aside from the governor, the other "super delegates" include the state's four Democratic members of Congress, the chairman and first vice chairman of the state party, three Arizona members of the Democratic National Committee and a final delegate to be chosen by party faithful in April.
The governor did congratulate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on his Republican primary victories Tuesday, including in Arizona.
But she declined to say what that means for Arizona politics in November - and for Democrats in particular - if the state's senior senator is heading the Republican ticket.
"First of all, we don't know who the Democratic nominee is. We don't know what the issues, at that point, will be," she said.
And Napolitano said it's also far from certain McCain would automatically win his own state, pointing to the inability of Democrat Al Gore to carry his home state of Tennessee in the 2000 presidential race.