08/08/2012 10:01 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2012

Schapira Emerges as Democratic Standard-Bearer in Pivotal Arizona Congressional Race


With early ballots in the mail, and only three weeks from the August 28th primary, State Senator David Schapira has emerged as the Democratic standard-bearer in a closely watched and increasingly nasty three-way congressional race in Arizona that many observers see as a litmus test for national Democratic chances to pick up critical seats in Congress.

In a growing wave of support, as Arizona edges toward a possible Blue upset in the fall, local Democrats have mobilized to bring one of their own rising stars to the forefront of a race with national implications.

Facing two well-connected but fair-weather Democrats in the sprawling Phoenix-area district, which centers around the Democratic stronghold of Tempe, Schapira's bold and tireless leadership in the beleaguered Arizona state legislature and his unwavering support for health care, education, job creation and sustainability issues have generated a clear momentum of local support in the closing days of the primary campaign.

"I believe it is important that we elect someone who understands and values our community -- and will work hard to represent it," former U.S. Congressman Harry Mitchell said in a prized endorsement last month, and who represented part of the district in the past. "This is why I've decided to cast my primary vote for Tempe's State Senator, David Schapira."

In a surprise move last week, even the Arizona Republic editorial board singled out Schapira for his "pragmatic solutions to issues, particularly in education," and endorsed him ahead of well-healed opponents Andrei Cherny and Kyrsten Sinema.

Unlike the third-generation Arizonan Schapira, a small businessman and Arizona State University faculty member, Cherny is a relative newcomer to the state, who has once again cashed in his former White House connections for major donations and endorsements from former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore and leads the race in contributions. But such outside support has not benefited Cherny in the past -- nor has he stood firmly behind the party. A former White House speechwriter, Cherny failed in a bid for the California state assembly 10 years ago; former Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe headed up Cherny's failed attempt at state treasurer in 2010, which also touted Clinton's support. To the chagrin of many Democrats in Arizona, Cherny pandered to a Tea Party function in 2010, publicly opposing "Obamacare."

In a district that includes an estimated 25 percent of Latino voters, Sinema's own shifting views on immigration during her terms in the state legislature, including a bizarre coddling of self-proclaimed Tea Party President and SB 1070 architect Russell Pearce, has raised the ire of many mainstream Democrats looking for new leadership.

A school board member, Schapira has actively supported the passage of the DREAM Act for undocumented students. With growing ranks of volunteers for a strong get-out-the-vote effort, Schapira has also won the support of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, the Arizona affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and three local affiliates of the National Education Association (NEA).

"Voters are looking for candidates who stand up for what they believe in and can win, not by hiding their values, but by sharing them with voters. David is that candidate," said U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, (D-AZ), in an early endorsement this spring. "In the Arizona Legislature, David has been a leader in fighting for jobs and the middle class, protecting the environment and stopping terrible bills. Arizona will be well-served by having David in Congress."

With an increasingly stronger presence in state politics and mobilizations efforts, the Progressive Democrats of America have also endorsed Schapira.

"Congressional District Nine presents Democrats with a unique opportunity to send a leader to Washington," said PDA Arizona state coordinator Dan O'Neal.

"A leader who will be a champion on the issues important to PDA and our community. Based on his record in the Arizona Legislature, there is no question that David is that leader. With David's leadership, Congress will make progress on the key issues of war and peace, jobs, health care, comprehensive immigration reform, the environment, and -- most importantly -- education. We are proud to support David in AZ-09, and are excited to do our part mobilizing support for him."