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Campaigns Heat Up Under the Arizona Sun

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Under a spectacular blue Arizona sky, Governor Janet Napolitano kicked off a Democratic day of action in a small park outside of Tucson. In the shadow of the Catalina Mountains, surrounded by nearly 200 volunteers decked out in Obama t-shirts and buttons, the Arizona governor said she hasn't been surprised by the level of enthusiasm being shown for Senator Obama across the state. "This state is changing so much politically that, no, I'm not surprised. Even though we knew it would be a tough task for Obama because his opponent is our senator, we also knew that the numbers for McCain have never been overwhelmingly supportive." While she's not sure Arizona will end up in Obama's win column, overall the governor sees a Democratic trend in her state. "We have great Democratic candidates across the board- for President, for Congress and our state house," said Governor Napolitano. "They're all running terrific campaigns, very positive campaigns." She gestured to the volunteers surrounding her, ready to go door-to door for Democratic candidates on a very warm day. "Just look at this enthusiasm!"

As the Governor thanked volunteers for coming out in support of their candidates, she took special notice of the many volunteers from Planned Parenthood, reminding the crowd of the pieces of legislation that have crossed her desk targeting a woman's right to choose. Napolitano vetoed them all, she said, but added, "We need a legislature, not just a governor, to act as a firewall against bills that target women and families."

Local candidates for the state legislation were walking too, including Democratic candidates Cheryl Cage and Don Jorgensen. Cage said the response she's received going door to door has been very encouraging. Jorgensen agreed, adding: "I've gotten a very positive response from Republicans, many Republican men in particular, who tell me they're tired of the divisiveness and the focus on issues that don't matter. They want folks who are willing to get to work to help this state." Citing the oft-mentioned kitchen table, Cage said; "I've been invited into Republican homes and had long conversations around those kitchen tables. Republicans and Independents I've spoken to see the need for change as much as Democrats do, especially when it comes to our education system." Long time Arizonan and current Democratic State Representative Nancy Young Wright also spoke about education. "In the last twenty years, under the Republican majority in the state legislature, Arizona's public education system went from being ranked 35th nationally to 49th. It's affecting our state's economic opportunities; how can companies attract prospective employees when they have serious concerns about our school system?" Wright says it's challenging being a Democrat in the current legislature, describing the Republican majority as "civil but with an undercurrent of control," but said this wasn't always the case. "This was a different state when we had more Goldwater Republicans. Elected officials worked together across the aisle and got things done. Republicans weren't as focused on controlling people's private lives as they are now."

In a small strip mall close to the retirement of community of Sun City Vistoso sits the local Republican campaign office. Under side by side, larger-than-life posters of George W. Bush and Republican congressional candidate Tim Bee, Arizona Republican Party Secretary Linda White told me they've been busy too. "Even though there are more registered Republicans in this district than Democrats, we never take anything for granted. We're working 9-10 hours a day, reaching out and touching voters." The office opened in April but it's just in the last 3 weeks that they've been open seven days a week. The office was empty during our interview; White said Republican volunteers and candidates were also out walking neighborhoods, assuring me they've got "volunteers a-plenty" who are "really dedicated to their candidates." White's fondness for her volunteers was evident; while mentioning one of her stalwarts who had just left for vacation, White added: "I miss her terribly!" White then expressed great admiration for another facet of their campaign: their phone technology. Describing their phone system as "incredible" and "unique," she said, "Our phoning system allows us to make four times the usual volume of calls. We've probably made 40,000 calls out of this office." She stressed that these were not robocalls - they were talking directly to voters, and when asked what she's heard during those calls, White commented, "This is different than 2006; voters really want to tell you WHY they're voting."

For White herself, the choice this year is clear-cut. "It comes down to a clear choice," she said, seriously and unequivocally, "Socialism or capitalism. Keeping tax cuts permanent or raising taxes. Coming out of Iraq in victory or with your tail between your legs."

Governor Napolitano also discussed the choice facing voters this year. Before volunteers started walking door to door, the Governor urged them to remember what they were walking for. "We're thinking of our future. We're thinking of families and children. We're thinking about improving our education system and protecting our beautiful environment. We're thinking of protecting women so their private and personal decisions are made by them and their families and doctors." On her way out of the park to kick off another walk, I asked the Democratic governor if she was feeling hopeful. She turned toward me with an ear to ear smile, and said simply: "I like our chances."