By Peggy Johnson, PBS station KUAT-Tucson
Arizona's second-ever Republican primary is coming up February 22nd. While the majority of Arizona's registered voters are Republicans, a growing percentage are Independents who can vote in the primary as the result of a ballot initiative passed in 1998.
Since the day Arizona's senior U.S. Senator John McCain entered the race for the Republican nomination, it was clear that McCain had to win at home. At one time it seemed that Arizona's primary would be important only if he was still considered a viable candidate after New Hampshire. But after his landslide victory in the nation's first primary, the question now is how strong McCain will be after the South Carolina on the 19th.
McCain may qualify as Arizona's "favorite son", but he certainly does not have the unanimous support of the state's Republican leaders. The Republican governor, Jane Hull, took a lot of people by surprise when she endorsed the campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush last fall. Her rejection of a McCain endorsement made national news, as did the subsequent New York Times story of her description of McCain's temper.
Hull is widely considered to be a moderate Republican in a state where many of the powerful Republicans can be categorized as conservative or ultra-conservative.
Take the Speaker of the House, Republican Jeff Groscost of Mesa, who is avidly pro-life. Groscost is actively working for McCain.
Republican state Senator Ann Day, the Senate majority whip from Tucson, and sister of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, an avid pro-choice advocate, is also supporting McCain.
Senator Day has been behind McCain's campaign finance reform from the beginning while Groscost (and several other key McCain supporters including the state's other U.S. Senator Jon Kyl) oppose McCain's ideas about reigning in soft money.
Senator Day explains this conundrum by saying that McCain's supporters admire his straightforward honesty and his integrity. She says, "I just like him, I believe in him." That seems to be the prevailing attitude of McCain's camp.
Building on the support of Arizona's Governor, the Bush campaign is bringing his wife Laura through on a campaign swing and George W. and his mother, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, are expected to stop by before the 22nd.
So far, Arizona primaries are 0-for-one in backing the eventual winner of the Republican nomination. Four years ago it is was millionaire publisher Steve Forbes who walked away with the state's 39 delegates. The state's primary date is controversial. Some say the fact that it is early, coming on the heels of New Hampshire, Delaware and South Carolina, creates excitement, encourages the candidates to visit the state and adds clout to the primary.
But McCain supporters tried unsuccessfully to move the primary back to March 14, after California, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. It was Speaker Groscost who had suggested the change, saying the later date would have saved McCain's campaign money. He denied suggestions that the real motive was to spare McCain the embarrassment of an early loss in his home state.
The Democrats don't have their primary in Arizona until March 11th because of a party restriction on primaries before March 1st. As a result, the Democrats have to pay for their own primary while the tab for the Republican election is picked up by the state. This year the Arizona Democrats are allowing registered voters to cast their ballots over the Internet to counter the shortage of polling places the party can afford to set up and staff. The Voting Integrity Project, a nonpartisan group based in Virginia, has filed suit in federal court to block the Internet voting, claiming that it diminishes the voting power of minorities.
In 1996, Arizona surprised the nation and itself by voting Democratic in a presidential election for the first time since Harry Truman.
Most voters, though, think it unlikely that the 47%-44% margin for Clinton will start a trend and are paying close attention to the Republican race and leaving the Democratic primary for later.