Originally Published: August 23, 2014 6:01 a.m.
PHOENIX (AP) - After spending millions on advertising and crisscrossing the state for months, attending barbecues, chamber of commerce meetings and other events to get their message out, Arizona's six-way Republican governor's primary is widely seen as a contest between Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey.
Ducey skipped the final candidate forums this week. Smith, meanwhile, is barnstorming the state Friday with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer at his side, hoping the governor's blessing makes a difference.
Early balloting began in July, but the actual election is set for Tuesday. A high turnout of primary day voters - especially by a large independent bloc - could give Smith a boost, according to Republican political consultant Bert Coleman.
The other candidates include former Internet company executive and primary dark horse Christine Jones, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs.
"It's all going to come down to the independents, that - at least in the data that I've seen - trends toward Scott Smith," said Coleman, who isn't working for any candidates in the race. "It is absolutely a two-person race between Scott Smith and Doug Ducey. I would have to guess that Doug Ducey is probably a few points ahead at this point."
Smith has cast himself alongside Brewer as a pragmatic Republican, one who looks at the facts before deciding to chart a course, even if it angers the right wing of the party. Brewer has famously broken with party conservatives by backing a temporary sales tax and an expansion of the state's Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.
But Brewer, one of the most popular political figures in the state, waited until nearly a week after early ballots were sent out before endorsing Smith, a delay that may have hurt his election chances.
"I will make decisions just like Gov. Brewer did, just like my fellow mayors have, always in the best interests of our citizens and the state," he said at an event this week. "We are going to win on Tuesday, we're going to win because that's what Arizonans want. They want real leadership, they want truth and honesty, and they want a positive image of Arizona."
Sean Noble, another well-known Republican political consultant who is tracking the race and backing Ducey, said Brewer's endorsement of Smith came too late to help and may have actually hurt.
"By endorsing him and saying he's the guy that's going to carry on my legacy of Medicaid expansion, she took his biggest weakness and amplified it," Noble said.
"Primary Republican voters despise Medicaid expansion, especially when they understand it's the Obamacare Medicare expansion."
Ducey has been a vigorous campaigner since announcing his candidacy in February and built a long list of endorsements from prominent conservative Republicans, both from Arizona and outside.
"That helps you build broad coalitions, and that's what this race has been about in many ways, is bringing people together so that we can move the state ahead," Ducey said at one of dozens of "ice cream social" events he's held in recent months.
Ducey is the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, a franchised brand with more than 1,400 locations when the firm was sold in 2007. He ran for state treasurer in 2010 and topped the Democratic candidate by more than 10 points.
His signature campaign line: "I built a company, now I'd like to shrink a government and grow our economy."
Jones, however, could play spoiler to both perceived front runners. The former general counsel for Internet domain provider GoDaddy, has spent more than $2 million of her own money in her effort to win her first elected office. Her former boss at GoDaddy has spent $2 million of his fortune backing her.
Jones jumped into the race as a political outsider who touted her conservative credentials, then latched onto illegal immigration as a hot-button topic after it was revealed that tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors were surging over the border into Texas. She called for fencing, use of the National Guard on the border and billing President Barack Obama for the costs, and she has kept up the drum-beat on the campaign trail.
Ducey made similar statements in his television ads, and Thomas is the most virulent anti-immigration candidate.
That helped Smith gather some support.
"I see Scott as middle of the road," said Bob Beck, a Glendale Republican who went to hear Smith speak at a recent event. "I keep finding that other candidates are just pandering to people's emotions, and they come across as whack jobs. And Scott isn't a whack job. When he comes up with ideas they appear to be well thought out."
Ducey has pushed for lower regulations, an overhaul of the state tax code, and lawsuit reform as ways to attract new business to the state. That's has helped him gather considerable business support.
"It appears to me," said Bob Miller, a Scottsdale businessman who held a small meet-and-greet for Ducey last week, "that Ducey has the experience of actually leading corporations to a successful stage, and secondly as treasurer now he has experience in government and knows has the mechanism works."