While Len Munsil stood at the podium to accept the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination Tuesday night in downtown Phoenix, Democrats were waiting just blocks away to launch a new round of political bombs.
Within minutes of Munsil’s acceptance speech, the Democratic Party had sent its view of Munsil’s public service record to nearly every major news outlet — a blank sheet of paper.
Republicans countered Wednesday with their own account of Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s record on fighting illegal immigration — a blank sheet of paper.
The exchange foreshadowed a campaign that many experts predict will mushroom into a bitter contest between two candidates at polar ends of the political spectrum.
It also highlighted what is shaping up to be two central themes in the race: Napolitano’s record on illegal immigration and Munsil’s political experience.
Statewide polls show Napolitano holds a commanding lead over Munsil, meaning he’ll have to close the gap quickly if he hopes to catch the governor by the Nov. 7 election.
To do that, most experts say he’ll have to deliver a message that appeals to his conservative base and wins over moderates.
In addition to immigration, Munsil said he also plans to focus on tax cuts, school vouchers and social issues such as banning gay marriage and further restricting abortion.
Napolitano said she intends to build her campaign around education, the economy and health care. Her campaign has touted her record so far, including her work to use state money for full-day kindergarten programs, economic progress and financial stewardship.
Napolitano said she intends to run a positive race that looks toward the state’s future. Then, she offered her perspective on Munsil’s political record.
“He’s run a small lobbying group for social conservative agendas at the Capitol,’’ she said, referring to the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group founded by Munsil nearly a decade ago. Napolitano added: “It’s up to the voters to decide whether that experience level rises to the level necessary to run a state with a $10 billion budget and 6 million people and all the challenges that we have.’’
Munsil responded by questioning Napolitano’s political history before she took office four years ago.
“What was her experience to be able to deal with issues like education, taxes — issues that I’ve been dealing with in the policy arena for 20 years?’’ he said.
Munsil said the governor has failed to secure the 370-mile border the state shares with Mexico. He then took Napolitano to task for her record on illegal immigration, saying she hasn’t been willing to do what it takes to secure the border.
But the race has the potential to heat up even more in the coming weeks as the Republican and Democratic parties join the fight.
Until now, the parties have kept a low profile because they generally stay neutral during primary races.
On Wednesday, the day after the primary, the Republican National Committee jumped into the fray by pledging to throw its weight behind Munsil.
Tucker Bounds, a GOP spokesman, said the national party would help with local get-out-the-vote efforts, but he refused to be more specific than that.
Democratic political operative Barry Dill, a former consultant to Napolitano, predicted both sides will grow increasingly aggressive as the election season heads into the final stretch.
“I expect it to get feisty. The two candidates will be offering two very different visions of the future,” he said.