For the second time in two years, SaddleBrooke Republican Al Melvin has defeated a longtime sitting legislator in the GOP primary.
Two years ago, it was Sen. Toni Hellon. Last Tuesday, Melvin beat Republican Rep. Pete Hershberger, the four-term House member who ran for the District 26 Senate seat being vacated by one-term Democratic Sen. Charlene Pesquiera.
Unofficial results showed Melvin defeating Hershberger by 1,274 votes, 10,131-8,857. Melvin garnered 53 percent of the votes cast.
Melvin now faces Cheryl Cage, the Democrat who received 11,375 votes as an unopposed candidate on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to win with a substantial margin,” Melvin said Monday.
“I did all the tried and true right things. I tried to knock on as many doors as I could; I tried to show the clear choice people had between my opponent’s actual voting record and what my positions are. I tried to get that message out as clearly as I could.”
“He got his voters out, and I didn’t get mine out,” Hershberger said Monday. “It’s the curse of the moderate Republican, a low voter-turnout primary.”
Hershberger was optimistic ahead of the voting. Many new early ballots were distributed, and he thought that would mean higher participation.
“All those early ballots went out, and a lot of them didn’t come back,” he said. “Better turnout was going to be good for me. I’m disappointed more didn’t get out to vote.”
Hershberger estimates that 50 percent of eligible residents in District 26 are registered, and that 20 percent of those cast ballots in the primary. “That’s one in 10,” he said. “That’s very different from the turnout we’re going to have in November.”
Melvin held a 383-vote margin over Hershberger in Pima County. The advantage was more decisive in Pinal County, where Melvin prevailed by 891 votes, 1,407-516.
“In SaddleBrooke, he beat Toni by 1,200 votes,” Hershberger said. “I wanted to cut significantly into that. I didn’t make it up in Pima County.”
Melvin agrees with the argument in a recent Newt Gingrich book, “Real Change,” that America is a “center right nation. The radical left is 10-15 percent at best. They want you to believe the country’s split 50-50, and I never have believed the country’s split 50-50. I believe 70, 80 percent agree on most major issues.
“We’re clearly where that center right majority is,” Melvin continued. “I look forward to reaching out to all Republicans, all Independents of like-mind, Reagan Democrats. I want to represent all voters and their families when I’m elected, and I’ll reach across the aisle too.”
Hershberger is accepting of the outcome.
“I tell people that I understand the system, that I understand the dynamics of the system,” Hershberger said. “I knew that I was taking risks with some of my votes, but I wouldn’t change anything. I would do it again.”
Hershberger bucked what he has described as entrenched, partisan leadership in the Arizona Legislature.
“I filled a role to try to be a nonpartisan, to try to do what’s best regardless of this harsh partisanship in Arizona and across the United States,” Hershberger said. “I tried to be something different, and I don’t regret that at all.”
Hershberger was “nice enough to call me and left a voice mail congratulating me on the win,” Melvin said. “I’m going to hopefully be able to talk to him sometime today.”
He said Hershberger has “become an expert in the area of child protective services, he’s nationally known, and I look forward to learning from him, and tapping into his expertise.”
Hershberger serves in the Arizona House until the second Monday in January. He continues to do interim work. The legislator doesn’t know if he’ll re-emerge politically. “You never say never, but I don’t know,” he said.
Hershberger won’t endorse specific Republicans, but said Monday “I will support the entire Republican ticket … from McCain on down.”
Cage was pleased to get 11,375 votes as an unopposed Democrat.
“The fact that so many people came out to vote when I didn’t have a primary opponent … shows how dedicated people are for change,” Cage said Monday.
The Republican result didn’t surprise Cage “when we saw how low the voter turnout was going to be. Historically, in primaries, the really strong party members seem to come out to vote. It was a low voter turnout, which favored Al Melvin.”
Cage had no preference for an opponent coming in. Melvin lost to Pesquiera by 455 votes two years ago.
“I firmly believe that both opponents were beatable. This district has changed. There’s a lot more independents in this district. General election voters are far more moderate. People are tired of the rhetoric that’s coming out of Phoenix. Certainly, Hershberger was more of a moderate than Melvin, but he’s still a part of the Republican Party that has been quite frankly very regressive, and backwards thinking for a long time. People are ready for some fresh ideas, some new perspectives, and that’s what they can find in me.”
Melvin was on his way to door knocking when he called Monday.
“With a two-year cycle, even when you win the general, you’re always running,” he said.
Melvin has studied Cage’s web site. “I hope we can try to talk about the issues and the qualifications, and take the high road in this thing.”