The Battle for the Legislature: Partisan Primaries Could Provide a Clue

The Arizona Republican Party has for a long time held a stranglehold on legislation at the State Capitol. Democrats haven’t held a majority in either the Senate or House since all the way back in 1992, representing a stunning 32 year time period where Republicans held a majority in both (outside of a four year period where the Senate was split down the middle).

That said, 2024 is a legitimate opportunity to stop that streak, as Republicans hold the absolute thinnest of margins, with mere one vote majorities in both the House and the Senate. With unpopular Republicans at the top of the ticket (Trump and Lake), Democrats have a massive opportunity to flip one or both to their control. And a critical look into those chances will happen with the upcoming primary elections with a few different races.

This article outlines several districts within which if the more bombastic candidate emerges from the primary, it could bode poorly for the general election. One of the more spicy races is down in Pima County, where incumbent Senator Justine Wadsack faces a tough primary against Vince Leach. Wadsack has made a point of being as controversial as it comes in the Capitol, which is good for getting the attention of the primary voting base but is a turn-off for most everyone else.

Additionally, Democrats in that district are utilizing a “single shot” strategy in the race for the House, running one candidate and telling their base to not use their second vote. In swing districts that has proven to be a successful strategy, giving Democrats a strong opportunity to pick off one seat.

Another race of note is LD2 in north Phoenix, where Sen. Shawnna Bolick has a contested primary against bomb-thrower Josh Barnett. Bolick received heat for voting to overturn the 1864 abortion law (ironic, since her husband Clint Bolick was one of the state Supreme Court justices to keep it in place). If Barnett were to win the primary, it provides an excellent opportunity for Democrat Judy Schweibert to win the seat.

If Democrats are able to pick off both of these seats, just like that, both chambers at the legislature are tied, and with Democrat Katie Hobbs as Governor, the advantage goes to the Democrats.

Primary voters are not known for choosing candidates who have the best chance of winning a general election; they traditionally bias towards the candidate which appeals to the height of their emotions. But Republicans would be well served to do their best to communicate to their base that sometimes more moderate choices are the right ones. The more extreme choices may end up having the unintended consequence of handing power to Democrats and overturning 32 years of uninterrupted power.