His math seems to add up, but too bad elections aren't run mathamaticly.
Do the math: There's hope for the GOP
Apr. 27, 2005 12:00 AM
Reports of Republicans dropping out of the 2006 governor's race - most notably Congressman J.D. Hayworth and former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley - have left the impression that Republican prospects are bleak.
That impression has been compounded by Republican Party Chairman Matt Salmon, who was also the losing Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2002, apparently going into a recruitment mode, rather than more appropriately letting the natural selection of political ambition work at this stage in the process.
Certainly, defeating Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2006 would be a decidedly uphill task. She's politically popular and has not exposed many flanks in the cautious way in which she has governed.
State spending has obviously gone up rapidly on her watch. But she can fairly say that much of it was to catch up after a couple of barren budget years that preceded her. Moreover, although there were differences along the way, for the most part she has signed budgets given her by a Republican Legislature.
In 2002, Napolitano ran on a stinging indictment of Arizona's direction, saying that state services were woefully underfunded and Arizona's economy was fundamentally flawed.
During the campaign, she pledged to raise $200 million a year in new revenue by closing what were described as sales-tax loopholes. Then she would appoint a commission to make broader recommendations about getting state government on a sounder financial footing and align tax policy with the needs of a new economy.
All of this has been pretty much abandoned. She didn't propose closing sales tax loopholes, and she has run like a rabbit from any mention of the "t-word" - taxes. Her commission was appointed but had its mission trimmed and its recommendations ignored.
Of course, the state has prospered and state government is now swimming in dough. Ironically, if Napolitano's critique hadn't been wrong, she wouldn't be in the strong political position she is in today.
But the state is in good shape, and she has been a capable and competent leader, nudging policy in directions she wants without taking significant political risks.
Nevertheless, Arizona's basic political math suggests the likelihood of a close election despite Napolitano's strong position.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state by nearly 150,000 registrants. Thus far, independents are tending to follow the voting pattern of the electorate as a whole.
For Democrats to win statewide election, that means they need to firmly hold their base and gain a fairly large Republican crossover vote.
In 2002, Napolitano did this. She held the registration margin Democrats enjoy in Pima County, about 30,000 votes. Democrats had actually lost Pima County the two previous gubernatorial elections. And, although Republicans enjoy a 200,000 registration advantage in Maricopa County, Napolitano lost it by only about 25,000 votes.
Those were impressive political accomplishments. But it would be hard to improve upon them in 2006, and with them Napolitano only won in 2002 by about 12,000 votes.
Too little attention is given to the importance of rural Arizona in statewide elections, particularly for Democrats.
There are actually 75,000 more registered Democrats in rural Arizona than in Pima County. And they are crossover opportunities for Republicans.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in rural Arizona by 24,000, Napolitano only carried those counties by about 7,000 votes in 2002. Democrat Paul Johnson actually lost rural Arizona by a whopping 46,000 votes in 1998, and Democrat Eddie Basha lost it by nearly 13,000 votes in 1994.
Rural Democrats tend to be culturally conservative, and here is the only weakness in Napolitano's political armament to date. On the cultural wars, she has proven to be an aggressive leftist, vetoing such things as a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, funding for abstinence education in the schools and recently allowing judges to consider marital misconduct in dividing assets during a divorce.
If a gay marriage ban is on the ballot in 2006, that would serve to highlight this record.
Much is being made of the fact that first-tier Republicans, ones who would begin the election on roughly an equal footing with Napolitano, are giving a pass to the contest.
But there are few Republicans with that kind of status, and they all already have good political jobs - basically Arizona's two U.S. senators and Republican members of Arizona's congressional delegation. In politics, challenging an incumbent usually falls to an upstart.
Given that none of these first-tier Republicans seems interested in going anyplace soon, second-tier Republicans with ambition don't have many options.
Given the new, less urgent timetable that public financing provides, the 2006 election season is still young.
Taking on Napolitano will be a daunting task. But, for second-tier Republicans, one with a rich reward for success.
Moreover, given Arizona's basic political math, one in which a challenger is likely to at least exceed expectations - which is a way to become a first-tier candidate the next time around.
My suspicion is that a lot of second-tier Republicans with political ambition, including some not currently on anyone's list, will be mulling over thoughts such as these over the next several months.