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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The TOP 10 Reasons Tonight's Primaries Matter

Tuesday is Primary Election Day in Florida and Arizona (also in Alaska and Vermont, but who cares?). That’s right people! Some states still haven’t held their primaries yet! Anyway, none of us live in either of those states, so what should we care? Well, elections in these two states should be of national interest for many reasons, so before I returned to law school, I collected some information on what I considered the most intriguing campaigns in what have become refuges for New Yorkers and Californians, respectively, but first, a little background:

Arizona and Florida are two of the fastest-growing states in the country. They are also two of the most gerrymandered states in the country, and, of course, both states have large Latino populations. As a result of the 2000 Census, each state gained two congressional districts, and the GOP-controlled legislatures who redrew the boundaries wanted to make them as beneficial to Republicans as the Constitution allows. In Arizona, that meant splitting up the Democratic bastions of Phoenix and Tucson, and in Florida, then-House Majority Leader Mario Diaz-Balart (R) made sure the new 25th congressional district included his state House district, allowing him to run for the seat, which he won and still holds.

In the last two election cycles, however, Democrats have gained three districts from Republicans in each state. (An additional district in Florida was won by a Democrat in 2006 and flipped back to the GOP in 2008.) Now the GOP is targeting those districts—and one or two more—in a year that promises to be much better for Republicans. Over the past week or so, I compiled the following list of what I’m calling the top ten reasons tonight’s primary results are worth checking out. However, I’m only going to list eight of them. Why only eight? SHUT THE HELL UP, THAT’S WHY!!!

10. Will conservative insurgent Joe Miller defeat Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in the Republican primary? Miller has attracted a lot of grassroots support and endorsements from conservative rock stars such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, but Murkowski is not as vulnerable as some may think. “Palin's decision to wade into the primary race in her home state was always somewhat puzzling,” Chris Cillizza opined on his blog. “Murkowski is not beloved among all Alaska conservatives but neither did she create the sort of animosity within the base that a Sen. Bob Bennett, for example, did in Utah.”
7. Arizona’s 8th congressional district provides an excellent example of the kind of seats Republicans must win if they’re to take back the House this November. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) should be ripe for the pickin's. She won a Republican seat in 2006 and was narrowly re-elected in 2008. Over the past year-and-a-half, she has cast several votes that put her at odds with her constituency, supporting the President on TARP, health care, cap-&-trade and the $787 billion "stimulus" package. However, Giffords has been careful to attend to the issues her constituents care most about, foremost amongst them immigration. She’s also amassed a massive war chest that dwarfs the campaign account of any other House candidate in Arizona. This race also evinces the importance of party unity: Republicans have a top-tier candidate in former State Sen. Jonathan Paton, an Iraq War veteran and native of Tucson. Paton’s raised enough money to get on TV with campaign ads (This one is my favorite.), but he faces a tough primary challenge from another vet, Jesse Kelly. Kelly, an 29-year-old businessman and Marine Corps veteran, has proven himself an effective campaigner and fundraiser. Conventional wisdom says that Paton would be the stronger candidate against Giffords, but in this political climate, it may not matter.
6. Who will take on freshman Rep. and 1st-class a**hole Alan Grayson (D) in Florida's 8th congressional district? The bombastic multi-millionaire narrowly won his seat in 2008, and Republicans attracted a political heavyweight when former state House Speaker Daniel Webster (Yes, that’s his real name.) joined the race, but Orlando businessman Bruce O'Donoghue may be the only one who can compete with Grayson’s money. If you’re a fan of racial profiling, then you may be rooting for Dan Fanelli, a retired Naval officer and commercial airline pilot who was a piloting Boeing 727 on September 11, 2001. However, don’t count out Cuban-American banker and political activist Armando Gutierrez. Considering the political environment, it may not matter how much money Grayson spends, but the diverse cast of characters vying for the GOP nomination is something worth checking out.
5. See how badly Sen. John McCain (R) crushes J.D. Hayworth in the Arizona Senate primary. McCain is an American hero, and Hayworth is one of the few people who makes conservatives look bad. His boneheaded decision to challenge Arizona’s most popular public official makes Pat Buchanan’s quixotic quest for the presidency in 1992 look like a ... oh, forget it. I just wanted to use the phrase "quixotic quest."
4. The free-for-all in Florida's 2nd congressional district is nothing to scoff at. Since being elected to Congress in 1996, Rep. F. Allen Boyd (D) has never had a terribly difficult time getting re-elected. This year may be different, however; Boyd has all but abandoned his “Blue Dog” status, voting for TARP, the "stimulus" package, Cap-&-Trade and the health care overhaul. Five candidates are seeking the Republican nomination in Boyd's district, but the congressman’s biggest challenge is within his own party. Despite voting the party line on every major piece of legislation this session, Boyd is still facing a tough primary against Florida Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson, and the recent indictment of a Washington lobbyist with ties to Boyd has given his opponent "a fresh line of attack." To make things even more bizarre, earlier this month a group of mayors endorsed Lawson, then withdrew their endorsement on the eve of the primary. Even though none of the Republicans has been able to raise or spend much money, There’s little doubt the primary battle has weakened Boyd for the fall election; as of this month, he’s already spent a whopping $2.2 million on his campaign. Bottom line: an underfunded Republican dark horse w/ no political experience will take on a career politician in a moderately conservative district. Who wins is anybody’s guess. John McCain received 54% of the vote in this district, and The Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and RealClearPolitics are all calling the race a tossup.
3. I forgot that I didn’t have time to write a piece on the Republican gubernatorial primary in Florida between state Attorney Gen. Bill McCollum and unscrupulous rich dude Rick Scott, a venture capitalist & former CEO of Columbia/HCA, but the next race on the list is really more interesting.
2. For the 4th time in nine years, Florida will get a new Attorney General. Former Hillsborough county prosecutor and FOX News analyst Pam Bondi is seeking the GOP nomination. Ordinarily I, being a very important person, wouldn’t care about these types of races, and I wouldn’t expect you to, either, but that doesn’t change the fact that Pamela Bondi is really, really good-looking. Also, she got a bum rap in most reports of a recent controversy involving a St. Bernard she rescued from a shelter after Hurricane Katrina. Apparently, the vet told her that the dog had serious health problems even before the Hurricane struck, and after the original owners tried to take him back, Pam had serious reservations about returning the dog, so of course she got portrayed as this horrible person who wouldn’t give a dog back to its loving family. What a crock. As St. Petersburg Times Columnist Sue Carlton explains, "the ugly mess ended peacefully, though not without tears. Bondi would send medication and food. The dog would go home." Worse still is that the infectious opprobrium that emanated from the drive-by media has pricked the ears of many canine-loving conservatives, who have posted comments all over the web that include copious references to Pam Bondi as a term that, ironically, is only appropriately used to describe a female dog.
1. Arguably the most interesting primary in a race for the U.S. House of Reps. is taking place in Arizona's 3rd congressional district, where the retirement of Rep. John Shadegg (R) set off a frenzy of Republican campaigns for his House seat. The identity of Shadegg’s successor is anybody’s guess. Will it be Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice Pres. Dan Quayle who’s taken up residence in Scottsdale? I’m not going to talk about Quayle’s fundraising or the recent scandal threatening to derail his campaign, in part because I wrote extensively about this race but seemed to have lost that file, so I’ll just copy and paste this excerpt from CQ Politics:

A good number have now jumped into the race, including ... entrepreneur Steve Moak. Former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, who switched from the gubernatorial contest to the House race in February, also had a good quarter.

Well behind were former state Rep. Sam Crump; former state Sens. Pamela Gorman and Jim Waring; and attorney Paulina Morris, though they are still considered possible contenders.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responding to the Shadegg’s retirement decision, elevated this race to its list of top challenges for Republican House seats in November.

But the seat will be a tough one for Democrats to pick up, given its Republican registration advantage and the political climate. While Shadegg slipped a bit to a 54 percent to 42 percent win over Democratic tax lawyer Bob Lord, Arizona Sen. John McCain carried the district’s presidential vote by 56 percent to 42 percent vote over Democrat Barack Obama. President George W. Bush, at the top of the 2004 Republican ticket, topped Democrat John Kerry by 58 percent to 41 percent in the 3rd District.
My personal favorite in the race is Parker. He hasn’t raised as much as Quayle or Moak, and he’s only run two ads so far, but they’re good 'uns. He’s also scored a litany of endorsements from prominent local political figures, including his successor as Mayor of Paradise Valley, Scott P. LeMarr, as well as the mayors of Tempe and Scottsdale, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former Congressman and state GOP chairman Matt Salmon, and Rep. Trent Franks (R). Waring has been endorsed by McCain, and the Phoenix Republic threw its support behind Morris.

Okay, there y’all go. I’ve got work to do.

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