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Updated Aug 25, 2014 - 12:20 am

Expert: Arizona GOP gubernatorial race too close to call

The Republican gubernatorial candidates in Arizona are shown. From left, Christine Jones, Doug Ducey, Ken Bennett, Scott Smith, Frank Riggs and Andrew Thomas. (AP Photos)

PHOENIX -- Tuesday is poised to be a real nail-biter in Arizona.

Conservative political strategist Stan Barnes said he expects Tuesday's Republican gubernatorial primary to go down to the wire. Barnes said almost any of the candidates could pull off the win and voters have a lot of flavors to choose from.

Tuesday's race is likely going to be won by a razor-thin result, but the winner won't be able to take their foot off the gas.

"Uniting the Republican Party to take on Democrat Fred DuVal in November after a primary that featured vicious attack ads against each other is going to be difficult."

Barnes said the last person to unify a party after an ugly primary ended up winning. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, first became attorney general before winning her gubernatorial race.

"The Republicans have a real problem," said Barnes. The party has some dividing lines between key factions."

Barnes said Tuesday's race could come down to one factor -- Independents.

"They're trying to figure out which way to go. They may lean toward smaller government or what have you and people sometimes vote with their hearts and not their heads and it's happening in Arizona."

As of Friday, the favorites among GOP candidates were Doug Ducey and Scott Smith.

"It is absolutely a two-person race between Scott Smith and Doug Ducey," said Republican political consultant Bert Coleman. "I would have to guess that Doug Ducey is probably a few points ahead at this point."

Ducey, the current state treasurer, was endorsed by both Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Utah Gov. Mike Lee, and many other conservatives also endorsed Ducey for governor.

Many of the candidates backed Ducey because of his stance on illegal immigration and success story. He is the former owner of Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream shop that began in Phoenix and grew nationwide.

Smith, the former mayor of Mesa, won arguably the biggest endorsement in the state three weeks ago. His campaign was backed by current Gov. Jan Brewer, which saw him jump in the polls. However, some political experts said Brewer's endorsement could be a curse.

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.

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.

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.

As late as July 29, about 50 percent of Republican voters has not decided which name they would check on the ballot.

The KTAR Newsroom and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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