There is a report today in the Phoenix Business Journal that furthers speculation that Congressman Rick Renzi’s days in Congress may very well be numbered. While I won’t rehash recent coverage about Renzi’s problems, suffice to say that it’s looking increasingly likely that there will be a special election some time in the next 6-10 months.
So it’s not surprising then that the speculation has begun about who is considering running on the Republican side. Here is a brief review and the Hack’s opinion on who is considering running and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Top Tier Candidates
Former Senate President Ken Bennett
Bennett seems like a logical choice for this seat. He has a good base in Yavapai County, and he is LDS which should help him with conservative LDS Democrats in the NE portion of the district. Potential weaknesses may include unfounded claims that he exerted political influence in his son’s legal cases, and the same question every candidate will have to answer – can they raise enough money to be competitive in what should be a very expensive race.
State Rep. Bill Konopnicki
Before everyone posts comments on how Konopnicki is too liberal to win a primary (and maybe he is), keep in mind that Konopnicki always runs very strong in his legislative district. Konopnicki is not only LDS, but he has routinely won the swing areas of this district in his Legislative races. Konopnicki is also wealthy and could conceivably finance a big chunk of his campaign.
Potential weaknesses include the fact that he is seen as one of the most liberal Republican members of the Arizona Legislature which could make getting through a primary tough. He also has rubbed some of his Republican colleagues in the Legislature the wrong way with his willingness to occasionally plot with Democrats (the 2004 budget is just one example).
Rancher Steve Pierce
Pierce is a wealthy rancher who was the chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Party. He is well-liked in Yavapai and considered a good conservative. He is also close to Kyl, Shadegg, and Flake. Pierce could also afford to self-finance his campaign.
Pierce’s most obvious weakness is that he is relatively unknown to voters. Though, in fairness, if Pierce were to write a big check, that could be overcome relatively easiliy.
Other Potential Candidates
Senator Tom O’Halleran
Probably not going to happen for the liberal Republican State Senator. He represents Yavapai, but it’s likely there will be another conservative candidate from Yavapai County who will be in a position to take the bulk of GOP votes out of the County. O’Halleran doesn’t have much to offer to primary voters in this race. It would also be tough for O’Halleran to raise the kind of money to be competitive.
Lobbyist Sydney Hay
Hay ran and finished a close third in the 2002 Republican Primary for this seat. Word is that she is calling around to feel out her prospects on this race and would like to run. She is conservative and well-liked by conservative activists. She is also a good campaigner and able to articulate the issues.
However, it’s well-known that she does not live in the district, and it’s unlikely that the voters would accept another carpetbagger. In addition, Hay is a lobbyist. Now, in fairness, she generally lobbies for conservative causes, but that distinction will very likely get lost in a race like this, and being a lobbyist running for Congress is probably not the right profile to have in a race like this. Also, it’s unlikely that Hay could raise the kind of money necessary to be competitive in this race.
The Hack’s Take
The price of entry to be taken seriously in this race is going to be high. That immediately put’s potential self-funders like Pierce and Konopnicki into the top-tier. Bennett belongs with these two because he could conceivably put some of his own money into the race and would be able to raise money. He also has a good base from which to run in a primary and a lot of goodwill to tap into. In the end, I think it’s an either or situation for Pierce and Bennett. Both don’t get into the race. Whoever does would probably become the favorite. Konopnicki may flinch because our resign to run law would very likely require him to leave the Legislature. If he does run, he could win if he were able to do well in his legislative district and self-fund a big chunk of his race. O’Halleran and Hay are likely non-starters. They may run, but I think neither would be able to compete with the top-tier candidates.
Now fire away!!!