POLITICO has a lengthy Christmas day speculation post on the Crowd of Democrats jockeying over the Arizona Senate special election in 2020:
Arizona Democrats like their chances to beat Martha McSally again in 2020. But they may have to settle a long and crowded Senate primary first.
Four Democrats have already started laying the groundwork for Senate special election campaigns, meeting with party leaders and even sparring over their credentials — even before McSally was appointed to fill the next two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term. The party believes McSally will be vulnerable after losing a tough campaign to Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema in 2018.
It’s possible the Democratic field would clear if Democrats land a candidate they have coveted for years: Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and Navy veteran married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who is laying the foundation for a potential campaign. But if not, a big primary could put the Democratic nominee in the same position as McSally was in 2018: trading intraparty attacks until the end of August 2020, just weeks before mail voting starts in the general election, in one of the most important states in the fight for the Senate majority. Two potential candidates are already criticizing each other’s credentials before even entering the race.
Since Giffords resigned from Congress a year after surviving a 2011 shooting, Democratic leaders have tried in vain to recruit Kelly to run for office in Arizona. But he is now taking active steps to consider a 2020 Senate campaign, including a sit-down meeting earlier this month with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the incoming chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
Kelly’s unique biography and recent work as a national gun-control advocate with Giffords has given him a major fundraising network and a profile that supporters believe would make him a formidable candidate.
“With Mark’s ability to fundraise, his biography as a former astronaut and veteran and of course being married to Gabby Giffords, I think all those things put him in a really strong place,” said Roy Herrera, a veteran Democratic lawyer in Arizona who is close with Kelly and other potential candidates. Herrera added that while Kelly has resisted entreaties to run for office in the past, he is looking at 2020 “very seriously.”
So are three other Democrats. Grant Woods, a Republican-recently-turned Democrat who was once Arizona’s attorney general, has been publicly weighing a bid for months and told POLITICO he has taken every step toward running, calling his potential campaign “full speed ahead.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) (right) said in an interview he was leaning toward running and would likely announce a decision in early January. Rep.-elect Greg Stanton, the former mayor of Phoenix who won election to Sinema’s House seat in November, is also considering a campaign.
Woods (right), who also served as McCain’s chief of staff in Congress in the 1980s, said he met with Cortez Masto in mid-December during a visit to Washington, where he also sat down with several other senators who previously served as state attorneys general. Gallego said he had a meeting scheduled with DSCC leadership last week that was rescheduled for early January because of the potential government shutdown.
Note: The Arizona Republic fka The Arizona Republican has had its columnists E.J. Montini and Laurie Roberts both assert in recent columns that newly registered Democrat Grant Woods is the “frontrunner” for the Democratic nomination. I beg to differ. I would venture to guess that up to half of Arizona’s current population has no idea who Grant Woods is since the last time he served in public office (he served as Attorney General of Arizona from 1991 until 1999). Of course the Arizona Republican Party’s mouthpiece supports a Republican running as a Democrat to ensure that a Republican wins.
Some Democrats are concerned about the potential for a nasty primary if all potential candidates enter the race. Gallego and Woods, in particular, appear ready to go to battle representing opposite ends of the Democratic spectrum — Gallego as a staunch progressive and Woods as a former Republican fed up with President Donald Trump.
In separate interviews, the two potential candidates swiped at each other’s political viability.
Gallego cited his background as a combat veteran and work on the Armed Services Committee as critical factors in a state with a large veteran population, and he said he would be able to mobilize young and Hispanic voters. When asked about Woods, he jokingly asked whether Woods planned to run as a Democrat.
“Grant Woods is not a moderate,” Gallego said, criticizing Woods for co-chairing former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s 2010 campaign.
“The most important thing besides me or Grant winning is the fact that we take back the Senate,” Gallego added. “I don’t think Grant can do it.”
Woods criticized Gallego as relatively new to Arizona and less experienced. He brushed off questions about why Democratic voters would back a former Republican, saying his own views would be mainstream within Democratic politics — he is pro-abortion rights and anti-offshore drilling — and comparing himself to former Vice President Joe Biden. Woods also pointed out that Sinema voted with President Donald Trump 62 percent of the time in the last Congress, according to FiveThirtyEight, and said he expected his own voting percentage would be much lower. (Gallego has voted with Trump 17 percent of the time.)
Woods became a major supporter of Sinema this year after renouncing the Republican Party over Trump, and he said her victory is proof that a candidate like him would be formidable.
“Kyrsten’s election is a powerful road map of what Democrats need to do in Arizona,” Woods said, citing her centrist message aimed at independent voters. “It shows you can win, but it also shows it’s very difficult to win.
“The governor’s race here showed how not to do it,” Woods continued, referring to Democrat David Garcia’s double-digit loss to Republican incumbent Doug Ducey. Sinema’s campaign largely avoided Garcia, who ran to her left on issues including immigration.
Republicans are counting on a 2020 Democratic skirmish to help McSally, who lost to Sinema by 2 points and faced criticism from Republicans over her campaign decisions and messaging.
* * *
“The field will not be cleared for [Democrats],” said Barrett Marson, a Republican operative who ran a pro-McSally super PAC this year. “They will have an expensive primary and could come limping out.”
But not all of the Democrats considering campaigns may actually launch them. And Felecia Rotellini, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, rejected the notion that the primary would be detrimental to the party’s chances to defeat McSally.
“I’m not willing to concede that we’ll have a nasty primary,” Rotellini said. “It’s not even 2019 yet, and I’m a firm believer that a primary will help our candidates.”
Rotellini said she has spoken to all four potential candidates: Gallego, Kelly, Stanton (right) and Woods. She declined to address those conversations other than to say all four were deliberating on potential campaigns. She said she would work to avoid intraparty fighting, but she was “cautiously optimistic” that such attacks would be kept to a minimum.
Rotellini also previewed what’s likely to be a central Democratic attack against McSally: her appointment to the seat following a failed campaign.
“It’s clear that Washington, D.C., insiders handpicked Martha McSally to represent Arizonans,” Rotellini said. “After running a very divisive, dishonest campaign for over a year, the voters rejected her. They don’t trust her.”
I would be surprised if there is not a female candidate (or two) who emerges to run for the Senate as well. It’s still early. Stay tuned.