Gubernatorial hopeful Scott Smith hopes to revive his sagging campaign with what amounts to a last-minute endorsement from the state's top Republican.
Smith has scheduled a press conference for this morning in Mesa for what is expected to be the formal backing of incumbent Jan Brewer. The source is not authorized to speak on behalf of the campaign.
The question that remains, though, is whether the move could be too little, too late to salvage Smith's efforts to succeed her.
It comes more than a week after Arizonans have gotten their early ballots in the mail and started filling them out. There are less than three weeks until election day on Aug. 26.
But a recent poll done by Magellan Strategies shows Smith, who had been trailing in third place, may have edged into second, at least in part as Christine Jones has sagged. That, however, has still left state Treasurer Doug Ducey in the lead.
Pollster Earl de Berge of the Behavior Research Center acknowledged the late date of Brewer's action.
It comes not only after early voting has started but weeks after she gave her blessing to Republican candidates in the races for secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer. But he said there are still voters out there waiting to make up their minds.
“You have to believe that, right now, the people who are sitting on the fence are mostly independents and moderate Republicans,” de Berge said. He said these are the people who are most likely to be influenced by what Brewer thinks.
Brewer has repeatedly said she is concerned about protecting what she has called her “legacy.” Smith has taken the positions closest to those of the governor.
For example, he supported her decision to expand the state's Medicaid program by tapping into funds from the federal Affordable Care Act. That move provoked an angry reaction from many elements within the Republican Party who have been opposed to “Obamacare,” and even a lawsuit filed by the top GOP legislative leaders to kill it.
Smith is also alone in his backing of the Common Core education standards the governor has championed, also an anathema of conservative Republicans.
But de Berge said while those who support Medicaid and Common Core might not have voted for any of the other GOP contenders, the endorsement does provide a bump for Smith.
“While they recognize and have pretty good impressions of the governor, they may not be as aware of the specifics as to what Scott's policies are,” he said. “This will give them a reason to either look for it or accept her endorsement as proof positive that he is more to the center.”
Brewer's endorsement also could provide Smith with something else he needs: money.
Ducey and Jones have far outraised him and have flooded the airwaves with TV commercials. Smith, by contrast, has been more sparing in his use of the media.
But Brewer has her own state political action committee, dubbed “Arizona's Legacy,” which according to the most recent reports still has more than $635,000 in the bank. That comes even after spending more than $100,000 on mailers and other advertising on behalf of Republican legislative candidates who supported her Medicaid expansion.
While Brewer has drawn a lot of criticism from some elements of the Republican Party, she still has support among many.
A February survey by Behavior Research had 50 percent of Republicans questioned rating her performance as excellent or good, with another 28 percent saying she had done a fair job.
Melissa DeLaney, spokeswoman for the Ducey campaign, did not dispute that he had sought Brewer's backing. But she brushed aside questions of whether the governor's decision to back Smith will make a difference.
“Doug has brought in the broadest coalition in the entire race,” she said. “And we'll be happy to have Gov. Brewer's support on Aug. 27.'”
Within hours of word of Brewer's endorsement DeLaney trotted out a statement by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in support of Ducey.