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Guenther's opponent, Yuma Chamber of Commerce official Larry Nelson, is a political novice. Of the three Democratic Senate hopefuls, Guenther is the most moderate, which is probably why Burns thought she should ask him to change parties. Guenther wouldn't budge, more out of disgust at the offered inducement--the chairmanship of the Senate Natural Resources Committee--than out of loyalty to the Democrats.
Stan Furman is running for the District 16 seat in Glendale being vacated by John Kaites. Like Guenther, Furman is well-known in his district. He served in the Senate for four years, until retiring in 1994 to run against Jane Hull for secretary of state. When he lost, he swore off politics, but party leaders lured him back. Furman has a reputation for running strong grassroots campaigns led by his wife, Gloria. That's how he won before in this district, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, 35,000 to 26,000.
Furman's GOP opponent, Darden Hamilton, is largely unknown in the district. Hamilton, an aerospace engineer, was recruited to run by conservative Trent Franks. If Furman can paint Hamilton as a conservative right-winger, he can likely get the moderate Republican votes he needs to win.
Of the three races, the Republicans will likely focus the most energy and money on defeating Furman.
Ironically, it's Harry Mitchell (Tempe's mayor for 24 years, he's already been immortalized as a statue outside city hall) who faces the toughest challenge. Mitchell retired as mayor in 1994 and ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for state schools superintendent against Lela Alston. He says he can beat District 27 two-term incumbent Gary Richardson this time, though, because he's back on his old turf. But even party insiders beg to differ. In comparison to Guenther and Furman, Mitchell's viewed as a lazy campaigner. As of the latest campaign filing, in mid-August, Mitchell only had $4,600 on hand, compared with Richardson's $27,300. Again, party registration works against him, with 31,000 Democrats and 40,000 Republicans in District 27.
But if Mitchell gets to it, and the party delivers the support it keeps promising, all three Democrats could win.
So, let's suppose Guenther, Furman and Mitchell pull it off. Will it be a new era in Arizona politics? A real two-party system? Not so fast. The price of winning is having to beat back the hordes of Republicans who will want to clip your wings.
Winning those three Senate seats doesn't necessarily guarantee the Democrats equal footing with the Republicans in the Senate. Burns and Co. won't relinquish control easily. They'll continue cajoling and teasing Democratic senators to change their party affiliation, dangling tempting offers of committee chairmanships and approval of pet bills.
But the Democrats don't seem to see the need for a strategy. George Cunningham and his colleague Chris Cummiskey, of central Phoenix, are both expecting a peaceful sharing of power. Cummiskey suggested that a genteel coin toss between the Democrats and the Republicans could easily determine who gets to choose the Senate president and Appropriations Committee chair, with the remainder of the committee assignments thrown into the hopper.
Cummiskey is hoping for "initial solidarity" among the Senate Democratic caucus.
"I would just hope that for all the work it took to get us there, the caucus would hold strong and not just cave in after all that," he says.
But, Cummiskey admits, it could easily happen. "Somebody could cut a deal, and that's the end of that game."
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