The stakes for the November election were raised drastically last week when hard-line conservatives racked up victories across the state, jeopardizing the agendas of not only Democrats and the governor but moderate Republicans as well.
Issues ranging from state spending to transportation and health care will be on the chopping block of conservative Republicans who have been marginalized in recent years by a coalition of Democrats and GOP lawmakers willing to cut deals with them.
On Tuesday, voters tossed out moderate Republican lawmakers who crossed party lines to forge political coalitions with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, which in the past allowed her to push her agenda through a GOP-dominated Legislature.
Attempts to drive out conservative lawmakers, such as Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, failed. So, unless Democrats can pull out wins come November, the cross-party deal making of the past will come to a halt, said many East Valley lawmakers from all political factions.
That's historically been a tough task in many if not most legislative districts because of lopsided voter registration advantages favoring one party over the other.
"It could be a very difficult year," said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction.
She pointed out that in the past two years, Democrats have had more say on a host of issues under the moderate Republican leadership of outgoing Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson.
That has helped Napolitano, over the objections of some Republican lawmakers, increase funding for public schools and universities, provide health insurance for more Arizona children and pay for social services like the meals on wheels programs for seniors. Without moderate Republicans willing to work with the governor and Democrats, Rios said, those programs could be rolled back or eliminated.
Pearce said if he's elected to the Senate, he'll put an end to that kind of spending. A self-described conservative, Pearce said the state needs to roll back programs in the face of a budget deficit that could easily surpass $1 billion.
"This isn't about slice and dice," he said. "This is about getting your house in order. There are a lot of programs that you can cut to do that."
Pearce, who just came off a brutal primary election, would not say specifically what those cuts would be. But he vowed to reduce spending to 2006 or 2007 levels.
Pearce is one of the conservatives who Democrats and members of the business community unsuccessfully tried to drive out of office. Pearce easily won his primary over immigration attorney Kevin Gibbons in what became one of the dirtiest campaigns in the state because of spending by outside groups.
Democrats and members of the business community poured thousands into the race, trying to unseat Pearce, primarily because of his views on immigration.
Pearce was targeted by several independent committees that spent thousands of dollars on mailers and television ads blasting his conservative record. Many of those ads were laced with personal attacks. Although he faces a Democratic challenge in November, Pearce's district tilts heavily Republican.
Tuesday night's primary election also saw moderates in the northern and southern parts of the state fall. Sen. Tom O'Halleran, R-Sedona, and Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Tucson, failed to win in their races. Both lawmakers had worked with the governor to pass a nearly $10 billion budget for the current fiscal year.
Conservative candidates in Phoenix and other Tucson districts also won, raising the probability of a heavily right-leaning Legislature when it reconvenes next year. That is, unless Democrats can blunt the results of the primary elections and pick up seats.
Although it is a tough task, Democrats are optimistic they can do it. Traditionally, primary elections have determined who goes to the state Capitol because there are few districts in which there are an equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans.
In fact, some Democrats see conservative victories as an opportunity to pick up even more seats than expected. The strategy would be to paint them as extremists who don't have the state's best interests in mind.
Currently, Republicans hold majorities in both houses in the Legislature. But Democrats are expecting to either even up the numbers or possibly take control of the House or the Senate as they see more than a dozen competitive legislative races throughout the state.
Barry Dill, one of Napolitano's closest political consultants, said the success of Democrats depends on whether the party has the resources to fight on so many fronts. If Democrats are unsuccessful, Dill said, the more conservative Legislature would want to roll back the governor's gains and keep her from pushing forward.
"It makes governance that much more difficult," Dill said. "But I would question anyone who questions her resolve. This is a governor that likes the fight."
Jeanine L'Ecuyer, the governor's spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment.
The past couple of years, the governor has used moderates to jam part of her agenda through a GOP-led Legislature. More importantly, said some Democratic lawmakers, she also prevented the Legislature from cutting key programs.
At stake this year, Dill said, are her plans to build more roads and conserve more land as her administration comes to an end. Recently, the governor failed to get a pair of initiatives on the ballot that would do just that. One would have asked voters to increase state sales taxes by a penny to pay for more roads. The other would have protected 580,000 acres of state trust land from development.
Since those efforts failed to reach the ballot, Napolitano has said she will attempt to work with the Legislature to craft a solution. Unless she and the Democrats can beat back the conservatives, Dill said those efforts would be a tough sell to lawmakers who want to slice the state budget.
Both Democrats and the remaining moderate Republicans will watch closely to see how things shake out.
Recently, the GOP has had to cater to centrist members of the party to keep them from splintering off to join the Democrats. That could change, as moderates could be as marginalized as their Democratic counterparts.
"I've had people calling to offer their condolences," said Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, adding she found Tuesday's election results "troubling."
"I told them I ain't dead yet," she said. "I might be the last moderate standing, but I'm a big girl and can handle it."