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Fri, Oct. 18

Former AG to avoid Democratic race to face McSally
Woods cites expensive campaign as 2020 roadblock; says he will still work to aid party

Former Attorney General Grant Woods (Courtesy)

Former Attorney General Grant Woods (Courtesy)

PHOENIX — The 2020 Senate race claimed its first victim as former Attorney General Grant Woods gave up his plans to run — as a Democrat.

Woods, who until last year was a registered Republican, told Capitol Media Services on Friday he still believes he could oust Martha McSally who, having been appointed to fill the seat formerly occupied by John McCain, will have to run for the final two years of his term. And Woods pointed out that McSally actually lost the 2018 race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, whom he backed, for the slot that opened up when Republican Jeff Flake bowed out.

“The way you win it is with a centrist, somebody who actually is not super partisan and works with people on both sides of the aisle,’’ Woods said, someone like Sinema.

But Woods said he was not prepared to spend the next 18 months in what he said is likely to be an expensive process of clinching the Democratic nomination.

In announcing his intentions last fall, after McCain’s death, Woods insisted that Democrats would -- and should -- embrace him despite his lifelong Republican registration and his efforts on behalf of GOP candidates, like being co-chair of Jan Brewer’s 2010 re-election campaign. Woods, in an interview with Capitol Media Services at the time, argued it would be difficult for a Democrat to get elected statewide.

All that changed with Sinema’s victory over McSally. And that has brought out other Democrats who have expressed interest in the 2020 race, including Congressman Ruben Gallego and astronaut Mark Kelly who is married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and who, with her, has been at the forefront of gun-control efforts.

What that means, Woods said Friday, is that he would have to battle other Democrats just to get the party nod.

But the path for Woods to a Democratic nomination would have had other barriers -- and not just his long history of backing Republicans.

For example, in 2009 he represented the payday-lending industry in its bid to convince lawmakers that those businesses continue to be allowed to offer short-term loans to Arizona consumers with annual interest rates approaching 200 percent. That effort failed and the industry is now gone.

Woods also would have to answer questions about his role in being hired by the Fiesta Bowl for $55,000 to investigate how the organization’s money was spent. After an investigation lasting less than a week, Woods reported he “found no credible evidence’’ that bowl management acted illegally or unethically.

As it turned out, John Junker who was the organization’s chief executive, was sentenced to eight months in prison for his role in a scheme in which Fiesta Bowl employees were reimbursed for making political contributions to candidates. Five others also were convicted.

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, the assistant minority leader in the House, said the Democrats who he has spoken with did not share Woods’ contention that party faithful would rally around him as their only viable Senate candidate in 2020.

“He might win a statewide race, having just switched from Republican to Democrat, having been a Republican attorney general,’’ Friese said. But he was skeptical that Woods actually could win the Democratic primary.

Woods was unapologetic for the things he had done, including his backing of Brewer. In fact, he said, he had the support of Terry Goddard, the Democrat whom Brewer defeated in 2010.

“If Terry’s not upset about it, I don’t know why Gallego is upset,’’ Woods said.

But Woods said the issue came down to having to face a primary, one where he would have to spend time and money seeking the support of at least some people who are further left on the political spectrum. And that, said Woods, would eat into time that someone needs to spend preparing to take on McSally.

He pointed out that Sinema “barely won’’ last year’s race.

“This time McSally is an incumbent,’’ Woods said. “And the difference is when she has a fundraiser now, all those lobbyists show up because she has what they want; she has a vote.’’

And Woods said ousting McSally is important, calling her a “Trump enabler.’’

So if not him, then who?

Woods expressed no particular fondness for either Gallego or Kelly.

“I hope some other people get in,’’ he said.

Asked who would be more acceptable, Woods immediately named former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton who was just elected to Congress. Woods also said that Phil Gordon, another former Phoenix mayor, would be a good candidate, as would state Sen. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix.

Aside from hoping to help someone beat McSally, Woods said he is deciding which Democrat to back to oust Trump in 2020.

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