The Road Ahead in CD1

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!!!


  1. The seat isn’t vacant–he’s not resigning.

  2. Chris DeRose says


    Great analysis. If the conventional wisdom is correct, and there is a special election, the nomination may well belong to the person who can write the biggest check. I believe the primary must occur within 70 days of a vacancy, so while some candidates are raising money (while trying to raise their profile) $2300 at a time, someone who can spend a million of their own money has to be the favorite.

    I’ve heard that O’Halleran can self finance, in addition to Pierce and Konopnicki. Resign to run laws would force either lawmaker to resign if the run in the special election.

  3. Best analysis I have seen – kudos. I must note that Renzi is stubborn. He has his eye on the prize (the gubernatorial seat) and will not let anything get in the way. My prediction: he doesn’t resign or he drags this out as long as he can – regardless of how it affects the party. What I want to know is what McCain has to say? I can’t imagine that he isn’t strong arming the congressman to resign. Maybe it’ll be an issue of concern to McCain if he ever returns to AZ from the east coast… I think he’s officially relocated – no?

    Needless to say, we’ll all be watching and waiting.

  4. Hold your fire! Keep your powder dry! Renzi is in it for keeps. All the junk speculation and prognostication is just a big fat waste of time. However, it has been an interesting exercise in raising name recognition for a 2008 Republican Primary in what was suppose to be a cake walk re-election for Renzi’s 4th Term in office. But watch those Dems! They are tripping over each other to get to the head of the line of the CD1 Congressional succession. And they ALL have money and organizational strength behind them. I hate to be the one to break it to ya’ll but Arizona is no longer a Republican bastion. In fact, just the opposite when you look at recent statistics. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore. We are having trouble keeping our own in line!

  5. George of the Desert says

    Great analysis.

    Bennett would have the edge, I think, though Konopnicki would be tough as well. Both have the money and LDS connections. Interesting that one is strong in the west portion of CD1, and ther other has a base in the east region. It would appear that if Mr. Renzi stays in, he will have a primary. The 2008 CD1 race either will be an open seat race, or feel like one.

    As for the comment that AZ is no longer a GOP bastion; a little history.

    Until about 10-15 years ago, Democrats had more registered voters in Arizona than Republicans. Before 1956, Arizona was virtually a one-party state – Democratic. Until 1966, the legislature was run by the Democrats.

    Republicans have been ascendant for years, but politics is a fickle business and sometimes elected officials and other politicans “step in it” and let the other side win a few races. That happened for the GOP in 2006 and there may be some residual effects in 2008. Time will tell.

    But the notion that Arizona is slipping away as a strong GOP state is misguided. In fact, Pinal County has for the first time ever, reported a larger number of GOPers vs. Dems. Pinal County, for those not in the know, is the cradle of old-time Arizona Democratic politics. The flip to Republican advantage shows there is strength in the Ol’ Elephant yet.

    The biggest worry for either the Dems or GOP is the rather stunning increase of registered independents. There’s a message in that.

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