Gov. Jan Brewer, who enjoyed a spectacular surge in popularity after signing Arizona’s controversial immigration law on April 23, is facing three primary challengers in the state’s August 24 primary — two of whom are openly pandering to the party’s more rabidly right-wing voters, and a third who simply doesn’t stand a chance.
Heading into last night’s televised debate with her three rivals, the 65-year-old Brewer — a thirteen-year veteran of the Arizona legislature and the third consecutive woman to hold the office of governor in the Grand Canyon State — held a commanding lead over State Treasurer Dean Martin and wealthy businessman Owen “Buz” Mills.
A poll released by Rasmussen Reports late last month showed Brewer with 45 percent of the vote among likely GOP primary voters — a gain of 19 points since signing the state’s contentious and widely-criticized immigration legislation — to 18 percent for both Martin and Mills.
Matt Jette, a fourth candidate in the primary, barely registers in the polls.
The Rasmussen survey, released on May 21, also showed the once-vulnerable Brewer, who trailed her Democratic opponent by as many as nine points as recently as March, now leading Attorney General Terry Goddard — a former four-term mayor of Phoenix who’s waging his third campaign for governor — by a 52% to 39% margin.
It was the first time that Brewer broke the all-important fifty percent threshold.
Desperately trying to make headway against the increasingly popular governor, Brewer’s primary opponents have begun hitting her hard from the right, trying to make the case that she’s actually “soft” on the issue of immigration — a view in which most of the state’s Hispanic population would probably take strong exception.
Declaring that he will put 3,000 National Guardsman on the Arizona border during his first day in office, the familiarly-named Martin, a former state senator representing North Phoenix, has adopted what he calls a “Zero Tolerance” plan when it comes to illegal immigration.
In addition to completing the state’s border fence, Arizona’s chief financial officer says that he intends to establish a “tent city” to house illegal aliens who have been convicted of a crime in the state, an idea — you guessed it — endorsed by fearless Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the stout and endlessly self-promoting lawman who bills himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
“”There is no reason the state of Arizona should be building comfy new prisons for those who are violating our laws,” said Martin.
Playing to the state’s substantial anti-immigration crowd, Martin also promises to reverse Gov. Brewer’s “early release” program for illegal immigrants, a policy instituted late last year to deal with the state’s staggering $4.5 billion budget deficit.
Like Martin, Mills has also been highly critical of the governor on the issue of immigration, saying that he supports legislation to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States and asserting that he’ll make the necessary budget cuts to find appropriate funding to beef up protection of Arizona’s border.
Illegal immigrants, Mills said at a recent luncheon, are entering the U.S. “for some nefarious reason.” He didn’t elaborate.
Mills, who has reportedly sunk $2.3 million of his own fortune into the campaign, is the owner of the Paulden-based Gunsite Academy, a firearms and self-defense training facility north of Prescott that has reportedly trained thousands of law enforcement and military personnel, as well as private citizens from all over the world.
Unlike Brewer’s two other challengers, long-shot aspirant Matthew Jette supports comprehensive immigration reform, including the creation of pilot programs with neighboring Mexico “that allows for better understanding on immigration and the expression of shared goals that are mutually beneficial to both economies.”
An Apache Junction political newcomer, Jette has denounced SB 1070, the state’s new immigration legislation, because he believes it was unnecessarily “polarizing” and didn’t adequately address the issue of border control.
“We have to show some compassion,” said the little-known candidate at a forum this past weekend. “You don’t go rogue as a state merely because you are on the border.”
Jette’s forthright attempt to position himself as the only true moderate in the race has been largely ignored by most Arizona Republicans.
In last night’s testy exchange with her rivals — the campaign’s first televised debate — Brewer portrayed herself as a “truth teller” while castigating her two main opponents for distorting her record and offering little in the way of substantive proposals to deal with the state’s growing fiscal crisis.
Displaying a newly found confidence, the feisty governor chided Mills, who touts himself as a successful businessman with the acumen to fix the state’s twin evils — a sputtering economy and a deepening fiscal crisis — for failing to show how he would balance the state’s budget.
She also ripped Martin, who bills himself as a fiscal conservative, as being “part of the problem” for supporting runaway spending under her predecessor, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.