In governor's race, will Arizona immigration law be decisive?

The governor's race will pit the governor who signed the Arizona immigration law, Jan Brewer, against the attorney general, one of its main opponents.

Paul Connors/AP
Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard addresses supporters at his campaign headquarters in Phoenix Tuesday. Polls suggest he trails opponent Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been boosted by her support for the Arizona immigration law.

No sooner had the polls closed in Arizona’s Tuesday primary than Republican Gov. Jan Brewer lashed out.

She blasted Democratic challenger Terry Goddard as a big-government candidate, saying he “cut from the same cloth” as her predecessor Janet Napolitano, now the secretary of Homeland Security, and President Obama.

Ms. Napolitano’s propensity for big spending while serving as Arizona governor plunged the state into economic ruin, and Obama is doing the same to the country, Governor Brewer told a group of Republicans here in Tucson – a Democratic stronghold in a mostly conservative state – after her easy primary victory.

The candidates’ war of words during the primary portends a contentious general election campaign, one likely to play out in the national spotlight given Brewer's primary role in the state's defiance of the Obama administration over illegal immigration.

“Immigration in Arizona polls well above any other issue,” says Doug Cole, Brewer’s campaign spokesman.

Brewer's immigration boost

As the campaign kicks off, the governor holds a double-digit lead over Mr. Goddard, thanks largely to the anti-illegal immigration law she signed in April and her subsequent defense of it despite a lawsuit by the Obama administration. Goddard is perhaps the state's highest profile opponent of the law, and he and Brewer clashed over it so much that she asked that he remove himself from the legal team defending it from challenges.

But Goddard says he’s confident he will regain his early strong showing once voters realize she is hiding behind illegal immigration to avoid dealing with Arizona’s fiscal crisis. Mr. Cole says Brewer will be ready to address other issues, such as the economy and the state budget.

Brewer, the former secretary of State who ascended to the governor’s office in January 2009 when Napolitano left for Washington, experienced a difficult first year in office, often butting heads with members of her own party. But her unflinching support of a temporary one-cent sales tax increase, and her tough talk on illegal immigration and border security strengthened her political standing and raised her national profile.

Goddard says it’s time his opponent paid more attention to economic recovery and talked less about immigration, which is a federal responsibility.

“I’d like to know how she intends to do anything about illegal immigration," he has said. "The courts have said it’s unconstitutional for the state to get involved.”

The attorney general has challenged Brewer to a half-dozen debates, one centering on illegal immigration and the others on various topics involving the economy. Brewer hasn't taken him up on the offer yet.

“Her record is very clear,” Cole says. “As the campaign progresses we will revisit that.”

The money trail

There are signs Brewer may be the better funded candidate, at least for now. She and Goddard are using public dollars to finance their campaigns and are receiving about $1.1 million each from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission between now and the Nov. 2 election. But Brewer could get a big financial boost from the Republican Governors Association.

The organization has more than $1 million in its Arizona political action committee account. It is unclear at this point whether all the money is committed to Brewer or if might be used to aid candidates in other states who might need it more. The Democratic Governors Association plans to support Goddard’s candidacy but he doesn’t know how much the group is willing to invest in helping to put a Democrat back in the governor’s office.

Although candidates who accept public dollars must abide by spending limits, the law does not prohibit outside organizations from engaging in independent campaigns as long those running are not directly involved.

Brewer and Goddard will face off on Sept. 1 in a televised debate for candidates who are using public funds.

[Editor's note: The original version has been changed to clarify the nature of Goddard and Brewer's dispute over Arizona's new immigration law.]

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