Arizona candidates kick off general election with Labor Day stumping

WASHINGTON – Fresh off the primary and with just weeks until the general election, Democrat Paul Penzone will kick off his campaign against longtime Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio by meeting and greeting voters this holiday weekend.

Penzone is just one of several candidates who will be out at parades and private parties over Labor Day weekend, the unofficial start to the general election season.

The person-to-person campaigning during this holiday weekend is a constant, one historian said, even in an age of radio, television and social media.

And it’s particularly important for Arizona candidates who have precious little time between Tuesday’s primary and the Nov. 8 general election, said a political scientist. Early voting in Arizona begins Oct. 12, less than six weeks away.

“In Arizona, the primary is very late, relative to the country,” said Fred Solop, a professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University. “The general election basically starts now.”

Candidates in open or highly contested seats, like Penzone or 1st Congressional District Democratic nominee Tom O’Halleran, will be attending public events, meeting constituents and spreading their message, their campaigns said this week.

Some others who won easy primary victories will be taking a breather this weekend. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, will spend time with family before heading back to Washington next week, said campaign spokesman Tom Van Flein.

Solop said that even those candidates who aren’t out on the campaign trail will still begin their campaigns in “earnest” now and work hard during the narrow timeframe.

“Even though they may not be holding rallies or meetings or fundraisers, that doesn’t mean their campaign is on hold,” he said.

“It doesn’t make sense to wait and waste precious time,” Solop said. “The candidate who waits is the candidate who will lose.”

Georgetown University political historian Michael Kazin said that person-to-person political campaigning is still important, even though there are other ways to reach voters these days.

“Candidates used to hold public talks which the press covered and provided detailed reports on,” Kazin said. “Of course, the campaigns are more expensive now.”

But O’Halleran will be employing the time-tested personal touch this weekend, said campaign spokesman Jacob Becklund, before kicking off an “election tour” Tuesday that will feature five public events over three days across the sprawling district.

While O’Halleran squares off against Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu for an open seat, Penzone faces Arpaio, an incumbent who has held the sheriff’s office for 23 years. But Arpaio’s campaign appeared to take a hit recently after a federal judge referred the sheriff to the U.S. Attorney’s office for possible prosecution on criminal contempt of court charges in a long-running racial profiling case against Arpaio’s office.

Penzone spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said he knows the race will be a challenge despite the controversy and plans to spend the entire Labor Day weekend meeting with voters.

“He’s focused on bringing his message to the people,” she said. “The primary results were exactly what we had expected, he’s showing that he is the principled, professional candidate and letting the voters choose.”