The Democratic challengers to Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich must compete not only with voter registration numbers that favor the GOP, but with a 50-year trend that favors incumbents in statewide races.
Aside from Corporation Commission races, a statewide elected official hasn’t lost a general election in Arizona since 1966, when Republican Jack Williams defeated Democratic Gov. Sam Goddard. The last incumbent attorney general to lose a general election was Democrat Wade Church, who lost to Republican Robert Pickrell in 1960.
Gubernatorial nominee David Garcia and attorney general candidate January Contreras hope to reverse those trends this year.
Other statewide offices require a deeper dive into the history books. An incumbent secretary of state hasn’t lost a general election since 1922, when Democrat James Kerby ousted Republican Ernest Hall. And an incumbent state treasurer has never lost a general election, or a primary election, for that matter.
The lack of general election defeats in Arizona may be a function of the state’s history of one-party dominance.
In its first few decades of statehood, Arizona was largely controlled by Democrats, who held most statewide officers. Prior to Pickrell’s defeat of Church, Arizona had only twice elected a Republican as attorney general. Arizona didn’t elect its first Republican treasurer until 1966. Only one Republican had served as state schools superintendent prior to 1964. And Democrats controlled the secretary of state’s office for 82 of Arizona’s first 84 years as a state.
Since the 1960s, Republicans have been the dominant party, leaving Democrats with few opportunities to defeat incumbents in general elections. The last time a Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican in a statewide election in Arizona was in 1954, when Robert Morrison defeated Attorney General Ross Jones.
Challengers have fared better in recent years against incumbents in primary elections. Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas lost their respective GOP primary contests in August. Two years ago, Douglas defeated John Huppenthal and Brnovich defeated Tom Horne in the Republican primary.
Other statewide offices that aren’t in the gubernatorial line of succession have more recently seen incumbents defeated for re-election, most recently in the 2012 race for Corporation Commission, when Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman were defeated in their re-election bids. Similarly, the last state mine inspector to lose a re-election campaign was Republican Verne McCutchan, who lost the 1974 general election to Democrat Bert Romero.
Arizona Supreme Court justices were elected statewide until 1974, when voters approved the merit selection system for judges that’s in place today. The last Supreme Court justice to lose re-election was Democrat Charles Bernstein, who served for a decade before Republican Jack Hays defeated him in the 1968 general election.
Arizona also has a pair of statewide elected positions that no longer exist: state auditor and state tax commissioner. Voters abolished state auditor as an elected position in 1968, at which time no incumbent auditor had ever lost re-election. The last time an incumbent lost re-election to the three-member Tax Commission was in 1964, when Republican Waldo DeWitt defeated Democrat Thad Moore. The Legislature voted to abolish the Tax Commission in 1974.
List of incumbents who lost re-election campaigns for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer or superintendent of public instruction
1918: Gov. George Hunt (D) lost to Thomas Campbell (R)
1920: Attorney General Wiley Jones (D) lost to W.J. Galbraith (R); Superintendent of Public Instruction C.O. Case (D) lost to Elsie Toles (R)
1922: Gov. Thomas Campbell (R) lost to George Hunt (D); Secretary of State Ernest Hall (R) lost to James Kerby (D); Attorney General W.J. Galbraith (R) lost to John Murphy (D); Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Toles (R) lost to C.O. Case (D)
1928: Gov. John Phillips (R) lost to George Hunt
1930: Gov. George Hunt (D) lost to John Phillips (R)
1952: Attorney General Fred Wilson (D) lost to Ross Jones (R)
1954: Gov. John Pyle (R) lost to Ernest McFarland (D); Attorney General Ross Jones (R) lost to Robert Morrison (D)
1960: Attorney General Wade Church (D) lost to Robert Pickrell (R)
1964: Superintendent of Public Instruction W.W. “Skipper” Dick (D) lost to Sarah Folsom (R)
1966: Gov. Sam Goddard (D) lost to Jack Williams (R)
1932: Gov. Benjamin Moeur lost to George Hunt in Democratic primary; Secretary of State Scott White lost to James Kerby in Democratic primary; Superintendent of Public Instruction C.O. Case lost to H.E. Hendrix in Democratic primary
1936: Gov. Benjamin Moeur lost to Rawghlie Stanford in Democratic primary; Attorney General John Sullivan lost to Joe Conway in Democratic primary
1940: Gov. Bob Jones lost to Sidney Osborn in Democratic primary
1948: Gov. Dan Garvey lost to Ana Frohmiller in Democratic primary; Superintendent of Public Instruction Linne Klemmedson lost to M.L. Brooks in Democratic primary
1956: Superintendent of Public Instruction Cliff Harkins lost to M.L. Brooks in Democratic primary
1958: Superintendent of Public Instruction M.L. Brooks lost to W.W. “Skipper” Dick in Democratic primary
1990: Secretary of State Jim Shumway lost to Richard Mahoney in Democratic primary
2002: Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera lost to Tom Horne in Republican primary
2014: Attorney General Tom Horne lost to Mark Brnovich in Republican primary; Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal lost to Diane Douglas in Republican primary
2018: Secretary of State Michele Reagan lost to Steve Gaynor in Republican primary; Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas lost to Frank Riggs in Republican primary