Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tales from the Trail: AZ-8

Kudos to Gilbert for doing such a great job keeping the blog going through the summer months. From the site meter, it looks like he's got a bit of a following other than me :-). With school starting up and the election getting rolling, I've resolved to start posting again myself.

As a dedicated political junkie who can never get enough polling data or election analysis, I suspect many of my posts will be reporting on hot races. Today, I'm going to start close to home (close to my home, that is) with a recap of an exciting (and somewhat humorous) battle for a house seat in the Sonoran Desert.

On Tuesday in the AZ Democratic Primary, I voted for a candidate that actually WON for the first time ever. (Go Gabby!) That wasn't too much of a shocker--she was heavily favored. The more interesting race was the Republican side of the 8th District Primary--a primary for a seat which will be vacated by Republican Jim Kolbe. Kolbe has long been a proponent of common-sense immigration reform legislation that focuses on guest worker programs and paths to citizenship (in fact, the bill now know as "McCain-Kennedy" was once the "Kolbe-Flake" bill). That won him some enemies in his own party among the southern Arizona border-dwellers (he also had already made himself more than a few enemies in the party by revealing he was gay). In 2004, he fought off a stiff primary challenge from radical Minuteman and Tom Tancredo solemate Randy Graf, who ultimately won over 40% of the vote. Graf also has some notoriety in Arizona for his failed attempt as a state legislator to pass legislation allowing patrons to carry guns into restaurants and bars (no joke).

Of course, Graf announced that he was running again for the now-open seat, and Kolbe and the national GOP freaked out. The 8th is a fairly moderate district, relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (the district has, after all, elected a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, gay Republican for a decade). In fact, even the "moderate" Kolbe faced a tough race against a Democrat several years ago after taking some heat for voting to impeach President Clinton and for sponsoring Social Security privitization legislation. So, the national GOP decided to throw it's weight behind hand-picked Kolbe successor (and former Kolbe campaign manager) Steve Huffman. The national GOP actually ran ads during the primary supporting Huffman--an extremely unusual move that angered Graf and the other Republicans running.

Then Democrats made a brilliantly shrewd, if a tiny bit underhanded, move. The national Democratic party bought ads during the primary that attacked Huffman! Their goal was clear: help Graf win. On Tuesday, Graf squeaked out a primary win, and most political prognosticators are now saying that Democratic nominee Gabrielle Giffords (that candidate I voted for) is a favorite to win the seat, scoring Democrats one of the 15 seats needed to take control of the House. Of course, anything can happen, but it's hard for most observers to imagine hardliner Graf winning in a district like the 8th, especially against a well-funded and charismatic opponent like Giffords. The National Journal's House Rankings now lists AZ-8 as the 2nd most likely seat to change parties, and the Washington Post's "The Fix" line hinted on Monday that the race would launch into their number 1 or 2 spot after a Graf victory. Props to Rahm Emmanuel's Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for getting their hands a little dirty and trying to bank a seat early.

The best part of this story came the day after election day. Kolbe declined to endorse Graf, saying "there are such profound and fundamental differences between his views and mine on several key issues that it would not be true to my own principles to endorse him now for the general election in November."

Classy move, Jim. Even though you're a Republican, I've always liked you. In some ways, I'll even be sorry to see you go.

Kolbe, by the way, went to Stanford.