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Message from AZ Democrats to Washington DC: We'll Choose our Candidate for Senate

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With a recent Rasmussen poll finding Arizona's senior Senator, John McCain, possibly facing a tough primary race against Republican challenger J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Democrats see a possible opportunity in the making.

One candidate, Tucson City Council member Rodney Glassman, has spent the last eight months establishing an exploratory campaign team while gathering support for a possible run (Glassman has publicly stated he will not make a formal announcement until early April, after Tucson's budget is finalized). Now Politico reports another Democrat, businesswoman Nan Stockholm Walden, may also be considering a run for the Senate seat.

But some Arizona Democratic activists are questioning who's behind Walden's sudden mention as a possible challenger, and they're pointing an accusatory finger toward Washington D.C. According to a report in the National Journal, some Democrats in the nation's capital believe Glassman may not have sufficient Washington credentials to be a strong contender, and could be encouraging other candidates to enter the race, including Walden. Glassman himself commented on the rumor, saying in a press release that "recent comments by the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) only highlight the fact that, should I decide to run, I will not be an establishment candidate."

One former state Democratic party official strongly believes Walden, a successful businesswoman who served on the staff of two former Democratic Senators and contributed to many Democratic candidates, is being encouraged to run by politicos in D.C. because, he said, they want someone they are comfortable with. "I think what we're seeing is DC people looking for someone with a DC base. They're shopping for a candidate and it's ridiculous." The prominent Arizona Democrat decried what he labeled the "presumption of the DC cocktail circuit" for thinking they understand who Arizona Democrats should support. "These DC insiders have no understanding of Arizona," even going so far as to compare a possible Walden candidacy to another recent Senate race. "This looks to me to be exactly like Martha Coakley. The Democrats in DC supported Coakley because they thought she hit all the right points. That was a disaster, and I'm concerned those same people may try and do the same thing with the Arizona Democratic Senate race."

Arizona Democrat and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez agreed that state residents should be allowed to chose their candidate ("that's the citizen's job"), and she too mentioned a political race which might have been influenced by outsiders as an example of what Arizona Democrats should strive to avoid. "Look what happened to Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas," said Rodriguez, calling Hutchison's candidacy for governor "a disaster" but saying the Republican senator was encouraged to run by "folks back in the Potomac." Rodriguez felt there was a lesson in that race for Arizona: "Don't take the mentality of DC and try and put it out here. It won't work."

Another prominent Arizona Democrat, Phoenix City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Michael Nowakowski, expressed concern about Walden's possible candidacy because of what he says is her lack of involvement in local issues and politics. The Democratic activist and Arizona native says he's "never heard of the lady," and wondered who could be encouraging someone with "little or no grass roots support" in Arizona to run for the Senate: "I think it's really sad to hear outsiders from D.C. encouraging an outsider from the Democratic party of Arizona to run. Shame on them." Nowakowski says he's asked other party members about Walden, and was told she's "a wealthy woman who donates to the Democratic party," something Nowakowski applauds. But, he stressed, it takes more than money to be a successful candidate, using the campaign of President Barack Obama as an example. "President Obama's campaign had money, but he succeeded because he had money and grass roots support. It's dangerous when those in DC focus only on fundraising and money and not on grass roots. You need both."

Nowakowski believes the grass roots support is there for Glassman: "Rod brings energy and leadership. He excites people. He uses his talents to attract people." Democratic State Party Chairman Don Bivens believes Glassman will also have the money; Bivens was quoted on CQPolitics as saying if Glassman ultimately runs against John McCain, "there will be no financial advantage for either side." F. Ann Rodriguez, a co-chair of Glassman's exploratory committee, contrasted Walden's limited local involvement ("She has no experience in front of voters, and no constituency work") to Glassman's, saying the Tucson City Council member "walks the talk, and I'm talking grass roots. Rodney does a lot of constituent work and a lot of community work. He gives of his time, and he's been actively involved in Arizona campaigns since he was a college student. He's a go-getter." Nowakowski comparison of the two possible candidates was equally blunt: "We have a local individual who people care about and support and an individual we don't even know."

Nowakowski knows Arizona Democrats will need national help to mount a serious challenge to John McCain, and says he "welcomes that support." But when it comes to picking the strongest candidate, the Arizona native felt the people of his state know best. "We understand Arizona politics more than they ever will."