Reports continue to emanate from Arizona that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will soon join the Republican primary battle for Sen. Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. Mr. Kyl already has announced that he will not seek a fourth term in 2012. So far, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is the only major office holder officially in the race.
Should Franks and Flake square-off, it is likely that the latter will be the better funded of the two as the Phoenix-area congressman has become a prolific national fundraiser without the aid of PAC contributions. Mr. Flake ended 2010 with just over $627,000 in the bank. Franks, on the other hand, has not performed as well in the money-gathering arena. Also originally elected in 2002, he continues to carry a debt of more than $264,000 and reports only $15,658 cash-on-hand at the end of last year.
If he is to upset Flake for his party’s Senate nomination, Franks will have to become the Arizona Tea Party’s cause celeb and generate a large volume of financial contributions from conservatives most concerned with social issues. Both men are among the most conservative House members, though Flake drifts toward the Libertarian philosophy on several issues.
Franks’ appearance in the race could change the equation dramatically and will be a significant factor in determining the outcome. He begins in the underdog position against Flake in a one-on-one race but, if the field becomes crowded, the candidate with the most fervent support within a political base is the most likely person to win, particularly in places like Arizona that don’t feature a post-election run-off between the top two primary finishers.
Democrats have yet to make many moves to field a candidate, largely because it is so early in the cycle. A group of stronger contenders entering the Republican side leads to a tougher primary battle, thus increasing the chances of a fractured outcome that could produce a weak nominee as we saw in places like Colorado and Nevada during the 2010 campaign. Arizona Democrats are hoping such will happen here resulting in an improved opportunity in the general election.
The Senate race will become increasingly interesting, but so will House delegation developments. With Flake already vacating his seat, and Franks potentially following suit and run for the Senate, at least three Arizona congressional seats, and maybe four, will be open. Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) also said this week that he is assessing his own chances of running in the statewide contest. In addition to the vacating members, reapportionment has expanded the state’s representation to nine seats, meaning one new district will be electing a congressman for the first time.
Aside from the competitive open seats, three freshmen incumbents, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1), Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), will all be seeking their first re-election and can expect credible opponents.
But the political upheaval is not confined to the Republicans. Obviously, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from being shot in the head earlier in the year, is not yet in any condition to determine what future political moves she will make, if any. All scenarios involving her potential candidacy for any office is pure speculation at this point. And the possibility that her 8th district may be open next year must be considered.
Finally, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) also is in a potentially vulnerable situation. Despite representing a Voting Rights Act district, Grijalva found himself competitively challenged by GOP scientist Ruth McClung in 2012, and won with only 50% of the vote. Redistricting will change southern Arizona, but it remains to be seen who will be the initial beneficiaries of the new boundaries.
In conclusion, should all of the House members considering the Senate race actually run, it is possible, particularly when the Arizona Redistricting Commission actions pertaining to the state’s new congressional map are considered, that all nine of the state’s seats could host significant campaigns. In what used to be one of the most quiet and politically stable states in the Union, Arizona politics are moving in the exact opposite medium in the 21st Century. A great deal of attention will again be paid to this state in the 2012 election cycle.
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