First an observation on voter turnout: it was low considering the tremendous interest generated during Arizona’s presidential preference election in March. Back then, Arizona made national news with stories of voters waiting in line more than 5 hours to cast their ballot. Fast forward to primary election day, no lines and only about 800,000 ballots cast—roughly 25% of the state’s registered voters.
A couple of things could explain the drop in participation. First, no presidential candidates at the top of the ticket to drive voter turnout. Second, voter fatigue. Tuesday’s primary was Arizona’s third—yes, third—trip to the ballot box this calendar year. In May, Arizonans voted on two high-profile and somewhat controversial proposals: one to settle a lawsuit over K-12 education funding and another to shore up pensions for police and firefighters. And we still have the November general election to go.
At the federal level, Senator John McCain had no difficulty defeating his opponent Dr. Kelly Ward (52% to 39%). In the “still too close to call” category is the race to replace outgoing Congressman Matt Salmon. State Senate President Andy Biggs and Salmon’s hand-picked successor was the early, odds on favorite. However, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones spent nearly $2 million of her own money to saturate the airwaves of the 5th Congressional District. She currently maintains a 900 vote lead over Biggs, but there are still some outstanding early and provisional ballots to be counted.
While a total of three incumbent state legislators lost their primary, the biggest upset of the night occurred in state senate race in Legislative District 18 when political newcomer and Air Force veteran Frank Schmuck defeated incumbent Jeff Dial (53% to 47%). Senator Dial was well funded and had been endorsed by Governor Ducey but had faltered recently when questions were raised around Dial’s veteran status.
The upset in LD-18 GOP senate primary is being held out by Democrats as the lynchpin in their strategy to win a 15-15 split in the senate membership and force a power-sharing agreement among that chamber’s leadership. While I do not think the Democrats will succeed in winning all the races necessary to achieve a 15-15 split, it is very plausible that they could win 14 seats. And such a razor-thin GOP majority in the Senate could present a real challenge to the governor as he works to pass his legislative before heading into his own reelection campaign in 2018.