Steve Farley struggles to balance on Clinton-Sanders tightrope

PHOENIX — More than six months after State Senator Steve Farley entered the race for Arizona governor, it has become clear that the Democratic candidates recognize the fine line they will have to walk during the primary in order to avoid alienating different factions of their party.

The state senator, who represents the ninth legislative district in southern Arizona, announced in June 2017 that he would be running against Governor Doug Ducey in 2018. In doing so, Farley became the third candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

Noah Dyer, a marketing executive, and David Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University, joined the race earlier that year. Dyer, considered a long-shot candidate by many observers, decided to re-register as an independent in July, blaming “senior state level partisans” for not embracing his candidacy. Garcia, meanwhile, who lost his bid for state superintendent of public instruction in 2014 despite outspending his general-election opponent seven-to-one, is now seen as Farley’s only real competition for the nomination.

Both Democratic candidates initially welcomed their primary challengers.

“I’m not sure of anybody else, but I think having others in the race is healthy,” Garcia told Arizona PBS in April. Farley agreed, telling Arizona Public Media one week later, “I think a primary is good for everybody.”

But the public niceties had already begun to devolve into personal attacks and hesitation about where they stood on issues of importance to the Democratic Party’s base.

Upon Garcia’s announcement that he would be entering the race, Farley dismissed his opponent as a political novice and opportunist who was jumping into the election from the all-talk-no-action world of academia. The state senator contrasted himself as someone who has fought for the Democratic Party for years, “not somebody who’s writing papers at a university,” reported Capitol Media Services.

The jab at Garcia’s lack of experience fighting for the Democratic Party echoed an attack line often used by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s allies against her own presidential primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) David Brock, founder of Correct The Record, for example, was known for dismissing Sanders as someone who had only “been a Democrat for five seconds.”

Farley’s legislative experience, however, could prove to be an issue of its own, as reporter Howard Fischer noted during an “Arizona Horizon” roundtable in November 2014.

“He’s a quote-unquote ‘fresh young face,’ but he sometimes doesn’t even get along with members of his own caucus, so that creates some interesting problems there,” Fischer said.

The Clinton-Sanders divide in Arizona’s gubernatorial race also points to a deeper ideological debate within the Democratic Party, with each candidate hesitant to take public policy positions that might alienate either wing of the party.

The Arizona Republic reported in August that Farley and Garcia “drew audible groans of frustration” from members of the audience at a Democratic primary debate for refusing to say whether they supported Clinton or Sanders in 2016. The Green Valley News similarly observed after another primary forum, “Neither candidate directly answered a question about whether they support recreational marijuana use.”

Election season is certain to heat up with the legislative session in full swing, offering an important advantage to Farley, who is now able to use his position as an elected official to speak his mind on the Senate floor in a way that Garcia cannot. The state senator’s campaign announced in January that his committee had raised $513,000 for his gubernatorial run.

Garcia’s campaign responded that his candidacy “is about issues, not dollars,” according to the Associated Press, hinting that the ASU professor was lowering observers’ expectations ahead of his own filings. That hint turned out to be true, with Garcia announcing soon after that his campaign raised less than $300,000 and had already spent more than two-thirds.