With No Votes Counted, the Tea Party Has Already Won Arizona's Governor's Race

With No Votes Counted, the Tea Party Has Already Won Arizona's Governor's Race
Scott Smith
Photograph by Samantha Sais/The New York Times via Redux

For most of the year, and certainly throughout the primary season, the big struggle in the Republican Party has been between the Tea Party wing and the business community. That’s not the case in Arizona, where GOP primary voters are casting their ballots on Tuesday to determine who will succeed outgoing governor Jan Brewer. Immigration has dominated the race, and the business candidates are basically indistinguishable from the Tea Partiers.

Two of the three leading candidates are former business executives: Doug Ducey, the state treasurer and former chief executive officer of Cold Stone Creamery, and Christine Jones, a former executive at GoDaddy, the Web domain hosting company best known for its racy Super Bowl ads. Each has been busily trying to outdo the other’s appeal to conservative base voters allergic to Senate-style comprehensive immigration reform who have become further agitated by the child migrant crisis that has dominated conservative media these last few months.

Although the Arizona Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Ducey, the role of mainstream, business-friendly, Republican candidate that the Chamber tends to endorse is filled by Scott Smith, the former mayor of Mesa. The delineations we’ve come to expect between Tea Party and business are utterly scrambled in Arizona.

The most recent poll I’m aware of, by Harper Polling, shows Ducey opening up a meaningful lead: He garners 32 percent of primary voters vs. 19 percent for Smith and 16 percent for Jones. But the race has been fluid, and what jumps out in the cross tabs of the Harper poll is the large segment of people who have no firm view of the candidates.

What’s clear is that a Ducey win or a Jones win—although either would technically anoint a “business” candidate the Republican nominee—would not be a victory for the moderating forces of the business community. Ducey’s closing ad, in particular, is a marvel of broad-bandwidth political pandering, first featuring an endorsement by mainstream former Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl (who sounded pretty warm on the Senate’s immigration bill when I talked with him last year), and then cutting to one from the infamously anti-immigrant Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

An accurate rendering of how the Arizona primary fits into the national context would probably have to conclude that the Tea Party won this race before any votes were cast.

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