Most view Arizona as monolithically conservative, but it’s anything but. In reality, the Grand Canyon State was monolithically Democratic until Barry Goldwater rebranded the GOP from its Rockefeller roots.
Just 10 out of Arizona’s 26 governors have been Republican, and for the past 35 years the office has seen a 50/50 split. Gov. Janet Napolitano was re-elected by a 2-to-1 margin just 8 years ago.
The partisan landscape changed with the passage of SB 1070, a modest anti-illegal immigration measure signed by Jan Brewer. Out-of-state Democrats and the national media not only demonized the bill, but personalized their attacks against all voters. When several Arizona Democrats called for boycotts of their own state, their party was tossed into the political wilderness where they remain.
This year, Arizona selects Brewer’s replacement and the GOP primary winner is almost assured the governor’s office. In a field of six major candidates, it came down to Doug Ducey and Scott Smith.
Ducey is the current state treasurer, but is more famous for leading Cold Stone Creamery from a scoop shop in the suburbs to an international chain of 1,440. Like a southwestern Scott Walker, Ducey ran on governmental reform, a pro-growth economic policy, school choice and healthy dose of federalism.
Smith stepped down from a highly successful stint as the Mayor of Mesa, a half-million-strong suburb of Phoenix. Unlike Ducey, he stressed political moderation, praising Gov. Brewer’s unpopular Medicaid expansion and federal Common Core standards. Arizona being an open primary state, Smith hoped for enough crossover votes in a crowded field to get him across the finish line.
It wasn’t even close. Ducey’s reform conservatism and broad coalition won with a 14-point margin of victory. At his raucous victory celebration in downtown Phoenix, it was easy to see why.
Every Republican politician in the state was there to cheer him on, from John McCain to Joe Arpaio. The massive ballroom was packed with more party faithful than many general election events. Even Jan Brewer, the only major Republican to endorse Smith, introduced Ducey and made sure she was in every photo taken that night.
As Ducey looks to dispose of his Democratic rival in November, Arizona voters handed their nominee a conservative dream-team as his supporting cast. Mark Brnovich, former attorney with the free-market Goldwater Institute, removed a scandal-ridden incumbent Attorney General. Jeff Dewit came out of nowhere to defeat two big names for State Treasurer. Reform-minded Diane Douglas ousted a Common Core-supporting gaffe machine currently running the state Education office.
If all goes as expected in November, Arizona can look forward to top-to-bottom governance by free-market federalists. Look out, Texas.