Andrew Thomas and John McCain Campaign on Thin Ice; Arpaio Enjoys Comfy Lead, New Poll Shows

By Ray Stern

Barack Obama has closed the gap with John McCain in Arizona, and the race between Democrat Tim Nelson and Republican Andrew Thomas for Maricopa County attorney is too close to call, a new poll by local PBS station Channel 8 (KAET) shows.

Experts predict this election could see a record turnout of voters, and local pollster Bruce Merrill says that should hurt McCain, Thomas and Republican candidates for the state Legislature. That's because high turnout usually means higher numbers of younger people, those in the "lower socio-economic" category and minorities, and all three of those groups tend to vote Democrat, Merrill says.

Still, high registrations don't mean those people are actually going to get out and vote. No matter which side of the fence you live, voting on or before Tuesday is crucial to anyone who hopes to make a difference in this election.

Merrill (pictured) says young people and Hispanics have posted some impressive registration numbers in past election seasons only to have members of both groups fail to get off their butts and hit the ballot booth. Yet if turnout does prove to be high, "Democrats could take control of the Arizona House (of Representatives) for the first time in 45 years," Merrill says. "I think you'll see a lot of races at the local level and county level that would definitely be affected."

The county attorney's race, for example, is a "toss-up" at this time, though Thomas appears to hold a slight lead, Merrill says. Thomas has a 7-point lead over Nelson, but the poll's margin of error for questions about county races was plus or minus 4 percent.

In other words, if Nelson's numbers were too low by 4 percent, and Thomas' numbers were too high by 4 percent, then Nelson wins. But there's a significant X-factor: The poll also revealed that many county voters -- 21 percent -- have yet to decide who they want for county attorney. Add in the factor of a potentially record turnout, and you've got a very competitive race for county attorney, Merrill says.

Only 7 or 8 percent of voters are undecided in the race for Maricopa County sheriff, Merrill says, because Arpaio is a "celebrity" who is very well known in the county, unlike Thomas. The poll shows Arpaio leads his Democrat opponent, Dan Saban, 56 percent to 35 percent.

"Arpaio cuts across party lines," Merrill says. "He's always been very popular both as a crime fighter and now as a tough-ass on illegal immigration."

Much of the publicity in the media concerning Arpaio's anti-illegal-immigration efforts has helped, not hurt, the sheriff's image with county voters, most of whom are "pretty tough" themselves on the immigration issue, Merrill says.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern