Pssst. There's a third candidate running in the District 18 state Senate race. That's right - Russell Pearce and Kevin Gibbons may have hogged the headlines of late over which candidate better represents Republican party values. But once that race produces a result in the Sept. 2 primary, the winner will have another opponent to contend with - 30-year-old Democrat Judah Nativio.
Running uncontested in the primary, Nativio said he has been going about his campaign - knocking on doors, going to private circles to raise $5 Clean Elections contributions and canvassing on weekends.
Nativio, a former police officer, is positioning himself as the change agent in this contentious race.
He currently works at University of Phoenix as a financial services manager.
An Ohio native who moved to Mesa in 2005, Nativio said his active community involvement through organizations such as Mesa United Way demonstrate his commitment to the people.
And, he said, with the Pearce versus Gibbons race turning into a "clash of two individuals," he wants to bring back to the campaign "the real issues."
His message to voters: "I'll spend my energy discussing education, jobs and safety for our community (rather) than plotting political moves."
"Where's the discourse right now?" Nativio added. "Will either of those two candidates attend PTA meetings and talk to families?"
Nativio calls himself a Democrat, but with an Alex Keaton twist. That's in reference to the relatively conservative character played by Michael J. Fox in a liberal family in the 1980s television series "Family Ties."
"I'm a Democrat, and I'm also pro-family," said Nativio, who quoted the late President Ronald Reagan on a liberal talk show and "managed to get away with it just fine."
But how solid are chances for a Democrat candidate in a district that's traditionally voted conservative?
Democrat candidate Tammie Pursley came within 2,000 votes of Pearce in the 2006 House race.
That gives Nativio hope. He's banking on his youth to present "a fresh perspective" to the Legislature.
He also points to the win U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., snagged over Republican J.D. Hayworth in a tight race in 2006.
"That tells you the East Valley mind-set is changing," Nativio said.
If elected, he said he will focus on reversing the brain drain out of Mesa.
"We're going to have a lot of kids growing up here, and we want our children to study here and get good jobs here too," Nativio said.
About the state's budget deficit, Nativio said the state government has been outspending itself but also under-taxing people. He advocates lowering the state sales tax but broadening the range of taxable services to spread them out.
"We're ranked horribly in education, but we rank well in terms of corporate taxes - there's something skewed there," Nativio said.
On immigration, Nativio supports securing the border. He also favors a guest worker program for those who want to come here legally.
Employer sanctions is not the answer, he said.
"I'm coming in and saying immigration is an issue, but how far do you let jobs and education and energy problems slide?" Nativio said. "We can all look at issues like guns and abortion, but at the end of the day, how much does abortion affect you personally on a day-to-day basis?"
Meanwhile, the last House race is the basis for Mesa City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh's "optimistic" endorsement of Nativio for this race.
Kavanaugh said Pursley's "credible run" demonstrated the depth of support for Democratic candidates in the district.
"I want someone to serve in the Legislature who doesn't hold partisanship as the key to work," Kavanaugh said.
He noted that historically the district has had a large Republican edge, but the number of independents has grown significantly.