Primary day 2014 was a beautiful day for moderation in Arizona politics.
A perfect day? Hardly, but disappointments in the Republican field offer opportunities for Arizona Democrats in the general election.
Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith's second-place finish to state Treasurer Doug Ducey was anticipated, though the severity of the trouncing -- a 14-point spread for Ducey -- was not, even for Ducey, who called it a "pleasant surprise" during one post-primary interview.
Smith, a pragmatist and a centrist, was the best the Republicans had to offer. But in a six-way race in which he was outgunned financially and Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a moderate, siphoning votes that otherwise would have gone to him, Smith's loss probably was inevitable.
His ballyhooed support among Independents didn't get him past 22 percent, at last count. Moreover, Smith didn't have the cash for as much TV time as needed, and the so-called "dark money" was behind Ducey.
Yet, Ducey did not triumph by manna alone.
Look to Christine Jones, onetime lawyer to Internet behemoth GoDaddy.com, who lent her campaign $5 million of her own loot.
All that money couldn't buy Jones a likable persona, much less a competent one. The more people saw of Jones in those incessant, annoying TV ads of hers, the less they liked her.
Her many blunders -- from saying she'd "send Obama the bill" for her border plan to her telling a TV journo that she enjoyed target shooting with her eyes closed -- were those of a political neophyte and could not be undone with an Amazon River full of GoDaddy-derived lucre.
Ducey scored his 36 percent plurality by selling himself as "the conservative ice cream guy," and by lining up backing from antediluvian right-wingers like the Center for Arizona Policy's Cathi Herrod, law and order hardliners like Sheriff Joe and center-right (for Arizona) politicians like ex-U.S. Senator Jon Kyl and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Indeed, when Ducey declared in his victory speech Tuesday night that it was a "good day for ice cream," he effectively summarized the simplicity of his appeal as the purveyor of pseudo-wholesome capitalism in the form of Cold Stone Creamery.
Inane? Intellectually, yes. Especially when you consider that Ducey's business achievements as Cold Stone's CEO ain't what Ducey's cracked 'em up to be.
Regard as evidence the company's notoriously high attrition rate for franchisees or that Cold Stone reportedly was overvalued when Ducey sold it to food conglomerate Kahala.
Ducey, like a good ShamWow salesman, knows there's a sucker born every minute. He's peddling the huckster's version of the American Dream, a product folks desperately want to believe in.
The appeal of that fool's gold is an obstacle the Democrat's gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal will face in the general.
Though, Ducey's baggage as a candidate affords more opportunity for DuVal than if Smith had scored the Republican nod.
A recent survey from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm in North Carolina, claims Ducey and DuVal are tied at 35 percent each.
PPP insists Ducey "is entering the general election badly damaged by the divisive primary campaign."
My reply to that? In Arizona, more than some other places, politics is a bloodsport, not some genteel debate club moderated by the ghost of William F. Buckley.
Though bloodied, Ducey is a practiced pugilist.
DuVal will need to shed his bland, happy-go-lucky image and make like a UFC champ on steroids if he wants to survive the Republican pummeling that's already begun.
Ducey and his proxies, like Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham are painting DuVal as a liberal tax-and-spend lobbyist with a weak résumé.
DuVal must respond in kind, exploiting Ducey's shortcomings, both personal and political. Go on the offensive and stay on the offensive.
The former Arizona Board of Regents member is running traditional (as is Ducey, natch) and has about $1 million in the bank, but he's been spending it fast, and it will go quickly.
Ducey also has the assistance of "dark money" prince Sean Noble, while DuVal has been offering to eschew assistance from dark money groups, which sounds like an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity.
Still, there were far worse potential results than Ducey's Tuesday night win.
If Jones had not been so disastrous a candidate, she might have had a shot at the Ninth Floor, where she no doubt would have appointed her pal Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to be the next director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
And that thought is almost as creepy as the idea of "Governor Andrew Thomas."
Thankfully, Thomas used his $754,000 in Clean Elections financing to solidify his image as a fanatical, right-wing goof, spouting intolerant nonsense about Mexico, illegal aliens, the "gay lobby," and "liberal bullies."
Which is why he came in second-to-last place, never making it out of single digits.
Thomas' poor showing was heartening, as was the defeat of two incumbent Republican scoundrels: Attorney General Tom Horne and Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, both of whom fell victim to their own bad behavior.
Huppenthal's crash and burn was caused by his extracurricular hobby of leaving comments on political blogs under such sock puppets as "Falcon9" and "Thucydides."
In so doing, he made vulgar observations about people receiving public assistance, and likened supporters of ethnic studies to Ku Klux Klan members, among other doozies.
Huppenthal easily could have hidden his tracks, but he was sloppy, referring to details of his personal biography only he would know and not utilizing a proxy server, thereby leaving a trail of valid IP addresses to follow, including one for the Arizona Department of Education.
Former Democratic Congressional candidate Bob Lord deserves the lion's share of the credit for Huppenthal's downfall. Lord and his co-scribes at Blog for Arizona did the detective work that outed Huppenthal and led to his devastating 16-point defeat by political nobody Diane Douglas, whose sole issue is her fervent opposition to Common Core education standards.
Still, Huppenthal could have overcome Lord's exposure of his online personality splits if he had not cried in public during a press conference wherein he repudiated his own sock-puppetry.
Hupp's poor handling of the scandal, and his show of shame, real or not, elevated the story, making it front page news locally and fodder for national outlets. The superintendent never recovered.
David Garcia, the Democrat's nominee to replace Huppenthal, is a well-spoken Army vet with a Ph.D. in education. He will paint Douglas as a nutty, über-right conspiracy theorist, which actually is quite accurate. The race is his to lose.
As for Horne's Waterloo, that's been four years in the making.
The primary appeal of former state gaming director Mark Brnovich, Horne's vanquisher, has been that he's not Tom Horne, who is currently being investigated by the FBI, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, among other agencies.
Originally, Horne did not anticipate spending any money in the primary, privately telling AG staffers that he planned to spend 90 percent of his money on TV ads (presumably in the general election) and just 10 percent on overhead.
This plan resulted in his using full-time AG staffers as campaign hacks, creating the genesis of his second major scandal, involving potential violations of federal and state laws prohibiting the use of official resources for campaign purposes.
But Horne's first scandal dated to 2010 and allegations that he illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee run by his outreach director Kathleen Winn.
Currently, Horne and Winn face an order by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to pay back $400,000 in illegal contributions received in 2010 by Winn's group Business Leaders for Arizona, or face treble damages. The two are fighting the case in superior court.
Horne's second major scandal erupted this year, when AG employee and Horne campaign fundraiser Sarah Beattie resigned her position in the AG's executive office and quickly became the subject of a smear campaign, when her resignation note, expressing fear for her "legal well-being," was leaked to the press.
As a result, Beattie went to the Irish wolfhound of Arizona election law, Chandler attorney Tom Ryan, with allegations that Horne was using the AG's office as his re-election headquarters, in violation of both the federal Hatch Act and Arizona's mini-Hatch Act statutes.
Beattie swore under oath that she fundraised while on the state clock at Horne's direction, and claimed other AG employees did campaign work on the people's dime.
Additionally, there were allegations of destruction of public records and the intimidation of witnesses, namely Beattie.
A professional fundraiser and a rather smart cookie, Beattie had more than her word. She had a plethora of e-mails and documents backing up her claims, all of which Ryan turned over to the Fourth Estate, as well as to various investigative agencies.
Beattie, when interviewed by the media, came across as forthright and honest, so her accusations rang true.
After all, this was the same attorney general who hired his mistress Carmen Chenal to a six-figure salary as an assistant AG in the criminal division, the same one who allegedly had suggested destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice in an internal AG investigation, prompted by articles penned by yours truly about Chenal.
And this was the same AG who was guilty of a vehicular hit and run with Chenal in the car as they headed to her apartment for a midday rendezvous.
Witnessed by two FBI agents, the incident made Horne into a laughingstock. Horne ultimately pleaded no contest to the hit and run charge and paid a fine.
Brnovich's challenge to Horne in the primary was immense but not a guaranteed death blow.
The AG pandered to the GOP's far right and anti-immigration crazies, an irony considering that Horne is a naturalized American citizen, born in Canada, and once was a Democrat.
In Brnovich, anti-Horne Republicans had an ex-appointee of Governor Jan Brewer, and a political scion of the Goldwater Institute, backed by conservative GOPers like County Attorney Bill Montgomery and former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl.
Horne had little to use against Brnovich, save the empty claim that Brnovich was for "open borders" because he'd once made a small donation to Democratic Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios.
Following the Beattie allegations, the AG was incapable of drawing contributions like an incumbent should, which was understandable given his legal problems.
Still, Horne had his family ace in the hole, his rich sister Christine Newman, who loaned him $300,000 during this election cycle.
Ultimately, Horne outspent Brnovich five to one.
Crucial to Horne's defeat was educating voters about his misdeeds, and for that we can thank Mesa Republican Tyler Montague, president of the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, which spent around $600,000 to $700,000 this year to inform Arizonans of the ethical lapses of politicians such as Horne.
For doing this, Montague's AZPIA, a 501(c)4 nonprofit, has been derided as "dark money," as it does not disclose its donors.
The catch-22? Montague would not receive those contributions, mostly from Republicans who do not wish to be vilified by fellow GOPers, if the money were not "dark."
I and ever other scribe in this town can write till our hands fall off about scalawags like Horne, but the general public will never get the message unless it takes the form of a TV ad.
That's why I doff my chapeau in the general direction of Mesa for Montague's selfless efforts. Remember, Montague has a day job, and is not a professional campaign guy.
Brnovich now faces Democrat Felecia Rotellini in the general. A true warrior queen, Rotellini has loads of name ID, a kitty of about $1 million (she had no primary challenger), and a demonstrated ability to peel off Republican votes. Both she and Brnovich are running traditional.
In the Secretary of State's race, Michele Reagan pulled out a win over Justin Pierce and Wil Cardon. All things being relative, Reagan is the moderate of that trio, but that's only in a Republican Party where Brewer now (amazingly) is seen as a mod.
Reagan will face former Attorney General and three-time gubernatorial loser Terry Goddard, who would make an honest and uber-qualified SOS.
Goddard is running clean, Reagan not. I'd like Goddard's chances better if he were not running clean, particularly since Reagan has a name, and is not as wingnutty as Cardon or Pierce.
Also welcome were wins by moderate Republicans blacklisted by Teabaggers for their support of Brewer's Medicaid expansion, widely derided in the Tea Party camp as "O'Brewercare."
I was happy to see hypocrite Ralph Heap, recalled state Senator Russell Pearce's revenge candidate in the Legislative District 25 GOP primary, returned permanently to his practice as an orthopedic surgeon by state Senator and nice-guy Mr. Moneybags Bob Worsley.
Worsley, who voted for the Medicaid expansion, bested Heap by five points, less than half what he beat Pearce by two years ago.
Regarding the GOP primary for open Arizona Corporation Commission seats, there's been much gnashing of teeth over the tactics utilized and the cash spent by dark money groups associated with APS to elect Tom Forese and Doug Little.
This too could be an opportunity for the Dems, though, as the APS angle could be used against "lapdogs" Forese and Little.
But Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Jim Holway are running clean and will obviously not benefit from the pro-APS largesse.
One shift not on the ballot: the influence of campaign consultants. Long has been the reign of HighGround Public Affairs' Chuck Coughlin, Jan Brewer's eminence grise.
In this election, Coughlin backed Smith, Horne and Brewer's slate of Medicaid expansion supporters.
As much as I despise Brewer's signing of Sand Land's odious immigration legislation Senate Bill 1070 on Coughlin's advice, I acknowledge that the Medicaid expansion would not have happened without Brewer or Coughlin pushing against the Tea Party tide.
Arizona could easily have been one of those states that did not accept the feds' Medicaid increase.
Conversely, dark money Mephistopheles Sean Noble of the firm DC-London backed winners Ducey and Brnovich.
Has the torch been passed, from one Svengali to another?
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We'll know better the answer to that question with the results of November 4.
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